Ultrastructure of transfer cells in spontaneous nodules of alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

P. A. Joshil, G. Caetano-Anollés, E. T. Graham, P. M. Gresshoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spontaneous nodules were formed on the primary roots of alfalfa plants in the absence of Rhizobium. Histologically, these white single-to-multilobed structures showed nodule meristems, cortex, endodermis, central zone, and vascular strands. Nodules were devoid of bacteria and infection threads. Instead, the larger cells were completely filled with many starch grains while smaller cells had very few or none. Xylem parenchyma and phloem companion cells exhibited long, filiform and branched wall ingrowths. The characteristic features of both types of transfer cells were polarity of wall ingrowths, high cytoplasmic density, numerous mitochondria, abundant ribosomes, well-developed nucleus and nucleolus, and vesicles originated from rough endoplasmic reticulum. These results were compared with normal nodules induced by Rhizobium. Our results suggest that xylem parenchyma and phloem companion transfer cells are active and probably involved in the short distance transport of solutes in and out of spontaneous nodules. Since younger nodules showed short, papillate, and unbranched wall ingrowths, and older tissue showed elongated, filiform and branched wall ingrowths, the development of wall ingrowths seemed to be gradual rather then abrupt. The occurrence of both type-A and -B wall ingrowths suggests that phloem companion transfer cells may be active in loading and unloading of sieve elements. Since there were no symbiotic bacteria and thus no fixed nitrogen, it is tempting to speculate that xylem parenchyma transfer cells may be re-transporting accumulated carbon from starch grains to the rest of the plant body by loading xylem vessels. Fusion of ER-originated vesicles with wall ingrowth membrane indicated the involvement of ER in the membrane formation for elongating wall ingrowths. Since transfer cells were a characteristic feature of both spontaneous and Rhizobium-induced nodules, their occurrence and development is controlled by the genetic make-up of alfalfa plant and not by a physiological source or sink emanating from symbiotic bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-76
Number of pages13
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Jun 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Alfalfa
  • Development
  • Rhizobium meliloti
  • Spontaneous nodules
  • Transfer cells
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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