The thiol tripeptides, glutathione (GSH) and homoglutathione (hGSH), perform multiple roles in legumes, including protection against toxicity of free radicals and heavy metals. The three genes involved in the synthesis of GSH and hGSH in the model legume, Lotus japonicus, have been fully characterized and appear to be present as single copies in the genome. The γ-glutamylcysteine synthetase (γecs) gene was mapped on the long arm of chromosome 4 (70.0 centimorgans [cM]) and consists of 15 exons, whereas the glutathione synthetase (gshs) and homoglutathione synthetase (hgshs) genes were mapped on the long arm of chromosome 1 (81.3 cM) and found to be arranged in tandem with a separation of approximately 8 kb. Both genes consist of 12 exons of exactly the same size (except exon 1, which is similar). Two types of transcripts were detected for the gshs gene, which putatively encode proteins localized in the plastids and cytosol. Promoter regions contain cis-acting regulatory elements that may be involved in the plant's response to light, hormones, and stress. Determination of transcript levels, enzyme activities, and thiol contents in nodules, roots, and leaves revealed that γecs and hgshs are expressed in all three plant organs, whereas gshs is significantly functional only in nodules. This strongly suggests an important role of GSH in the rhizobia-legume symbiosis.