The effect of white clover root exudate on capsules of Rhizobium trifolii 0403 was examined. The clover lectin trifoliin A was detected in root exudate of two clover varieties by indirect immunofluorescence with antibody against this lectin purified from clover seed. Trifoliin A bound uniformly to encapsulated, heat-fixed cells during 1 h of incubation with root exudate. After 4 to 8 h of incubation, trifoliin A was only bound to one pole of the cells. Transmission electron microscopy showed that the capsule itself was altered. The disorganization of the acidic polymers of the capsule began in the equatorial center of the rod-shaped cell and then progressed toward the poles at unequal rates. Trifoliin A could no longer be detected on heat-fixed cells after 12 h of incubation with root exudate. However, trifoliin A was detected in situ on one pole of cells grown for 4 days in the clover root environment of Fahraeus slide cultures. Inhibition studies with the hapten 2-deoxy-d-glucose showed that trifoliin A in root exudate had a higher affinity for one of the cell poles. Immunoelectrophoresis was used to monitor the alteration of the extracellular polysaccharides from R. trifolii 0403 by concentrated root exudate. These polysaccharides were converted into products which eventually lost their ability to immunoprecipitate with homologous antibody. This progressive loss of antigenic reactivity proceeded more rapidly with root exudate from seedlings grown under nitrogen-free conditions than with root exudate from plants grown with 15 mM KNO(3). The root exudate, depleted of trifoliin A by immunoaffinity chromatography, was still able to alter the capsule of R. trifolii 0403. Reconstitution experiments showed that the substance(s) in root exudate which induced this alteration of the capsule was of a high molecular weight, heat labile, trypsin sensitive, and antigenically unrelated to trifoliin A. A variety of glycosidase activities were also detected in the fraction depleted of trifoliin A. These results suggest that enzymes in clover root exudate alter the trifoliin A-binding capsule in a way which would favor polar attachment of R. trifolii to clover root hairs.