The actinomycete genus Frankia forms nitrogen-fixing symbioses with 8 different families of actinorhizal plants, representing more than 200 different species. Very little is known about the initial molecular interactions between Frankia and host plants in the rhizosphere. Root exudates are important in Rhizobium-legume symbiosis, especially for initiating Nod factor synthesis. We measured differences in Frankia physiology after exposure to host aqueous root exudates to assess their effects on actinorhizal symbioses. Casuarina cunninghamiana root exudates were collected from plants under nitrogen-sufficient and -deficient conditions and tested on Frankia sp. strain CcI3. Root exudates increased the growth yield of Frankia in the presence of a carbon source, but Frankia was unable to use the root exudates as a sole carbon or energy source. Exposure to root exudates caused hyphal "curling" in Frankia cells, suggesting a chemotrophic response or surface property change. Exposure to root exudates altered Congo red dye binding, which indicated changes in the bacterial surface properties at the fatty acid level. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) confirmed fatty acid changes and revealed further carbohydrate changes. Frankia cells preexposed to C. cunninghamiana root exudates for 6 days formed nodules on the host plant significantly earlier than control cells. These data support the hypothesis of early chemical signaling between actinorhizal host plants and Frankia in the rhizosphere.