Bradyrhizobium japonicum is a soil bacterium that forms nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of the agronomically important legume soybean. Microscopic observation of plant roots showed that butanol extract of B. japonicum strain USDA110 cultures induced for nod gene expression elicited root hair deformation, an early event in the nodulation process. The metabolite produced by B. japonicum responsible for root hair deformation activity was purified. Chemical analysis of the compound revealed it to be a pentasaccharide of N-acetylglucosamine modified by a C18:1 fatty acyl chain at the nonreducing end. In these respects, the B. japonicum metabolite is similar to the lipo-oligosaccharide signals described from Rhizobium species. However, the B. japonicum compound is unique in that an additional sugar, 2-O-methylfucose, is linked to the reducing end. Comparative analysis of the B. japonicum Nod metabolite and those characterized from Rhizobium species suggests that the presence of the fucosyl residue plays an important role in the specificity of the B. japonicum-soybean symbiosis. The availability of the purified B. japonicum nodulation signal should greatly facilitate further studies of soybean nodulation.