The mRNA population in pea root hairs was characterized by means of in vitro translation of total root hair RNA followed by 2-dimensional gel electrophoresis of the translation products. Root hairs contain several mRNAs not detectable in total RNA preparations from roots. Most of these root hair-specific mRNAs occur in elongating root hairs at higher levels than in mature root hairs. The expression of some genes in pea root hairs is typically affected by inoculation with Rhizobium leguminosarum. One gene, encoding RH-42, is specifically induced while the expression of another gene, encoding RH-44, is markedly enhanced. Using R. leguminosarum mutants it was shown that the nodC gene is required for the induction and enhancement of expression of the RH-42 and RH-44 genes, respectively, while the Rhizobium chromosomal gene pss1, involved in exopolysaccharide synthesis, is not essential. After induction of the nod genes with apigenin the bacteria excrete into the culture medium a factor that causes root hair deformation. This deformation factor stimulates the expression of the RH-44 gene but does not induce the expression of the gene encoding RH-42.