Asparagine, the primary assimilation product from N2 fixation in temperate legumes and the predominant nitrogen transport product in many plant species, is synthesized via asparagine synthetase (AS; EC 22.214.171.124). Here, we report the isolation and characterization of a cDNA and a gene encoding the nodule-enhanced form of AS from alfalfa. The AS gene is comprised of 13 exons separated by 12 introns. The 5' flanking region of the AS gene confers nodule-enhanced reporter gene activity in transformed alfalfa. This region also confers enhanced reporter gene activity in dark-treated leaves. These results indicate that the 5' upstream region of the AS gene contains elements that affect expression in root nodules and leaves. Both AS mRNA and enzyme activity increased ~10- to 20-fold during the development of effective nodules. Ineffective nodules have strikingly reduced amounts of AS transcript. Alfalfa leaves have quite low levels of AS mRNA and protein; however, exposure to darkness resulted in a considerable increase in both. In situ hybridization with effective nodules and β-glucuronidase staining of nodules from transgenic plants showed that AS is expressed in both infected and uninfected cells of the nodule symbiotic zone and in the nodule parenchyma. RNA gel blot analysis and in situ hybridization results are consistent with the hypothesis that initial AS expression in nodules is independent of nitrogenase activity.