Nodulin-26 (N-26) is a major peribacteroid membrane protein in soybean root nodules. The gene encoding this protein is a member of an ancient gene family conserved from bacteria to humans. N-26 is specifically expressed in root nodules, while its homolog, soybean putative channel protein, is expressed in vegetative parts of the plant, with its highest level in the root elongation zone. Analysis of the soybean N-26 gene showed that its four introns mark the boundaries between transmembrane domains and the surface peptides, suggesting that individual transmembrane domains encoded by a single exon act as functional units. The number and arrangement of introns between N-26 and its homologs differ, however. Promoter analysis of N-26 was conducted in both homologous and heterologous transgenic plants. The cis-acting elements of the N-26 gene are different from those of the other nodulin genes, and no nodule-specific cis-acting element was found in this gene. In transgenic nodules, the expression of N-26 was detected only in the infected cells; no activity was found in nodule parenchyma and uninfected cells of the symbiotic zone. The N-26 gene is expressed in root meristem of transgenic Lotus corniculatus and tobacco but not in untransformed and transgenic soybean roots, suggesting the possibility that this nodulin gene is controlled by a trans-negative regulatory mechanism in homologous plants. This study demonstrates how a preexisting gene in the root may have been recruited for symbiotic function and brought under nodule-specific developmental control.