In most forage grass and legume species the recovery of leaf growth following severe defoliation depends on mobilization of carbon and nitrogen reserves from the remaining tissues. Unusually, Lolium perenne L. is able to compensate for low levels of available N storage compounds by rapid up-regulation of mineral N uptake. To investigate the physiological basis of this behaviour, perennial ryegrass plants were exposed to a 10 ?d period of optimal mineral N (high-N plants) or zero N (low-N plants) supply before defoliation. N deprivation decreased total N and amino acid concentrations in roots, and increased root water soluble carbohydrate concentrations. Compared with high-N plants (control), fructans and fructose concentrations in roots of low-N plants were 74% and 49% higher, respectively. Low-N plants had higher rates of nitrate uptake following defoliation, and lower amino acid concentrations in the roots (mainly as asparagine and glutamine); a causal role was suggested by the inhibition of nitrate uptake by external root supply of amino acids to low-N plants or by a stimulation of N uptake of high-N plants by sucrose supply to the roots. The results suggest that down-regulation of nitrate uptake following defoliation of plants with high levels of N reserves, may be effected through an increased cycling of amino acids within the plant and by a shortage of carbohydrates. Results are discussed in relation to the proteolytic activities and mobilization of C and N reserves to leaf meristem.