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  1. In agricultural cropping systems, relatively large amounts of nitrogen (N) are applied for plant growth and development, and to achieve high yields. However, with increasing N application, plant N use efficiency generally decreases, which results in losses of N into the environment and subsequently detrimental consequences for both ecosystems and human health. A strategy for reducing N input and environmental losses while maintaining or increasing plant performance is the development of crops that effectively obtain, distribute, and utilize the available N. Generally, N is acquired from the soil in the inorganic forms of nitrate or ammonium and assimilated in roots or leaves as amino acids. The amino acids may be used within the source organs, but they are also the principal N compounds transported from source to sink in support of metabolism and growth. N uptake, synthesis of amino acids, and their partitioning within sources and toward sinks, as well as N utilization within sinks represent potential bottlenecks in the effective use of N for vegetative and reproductive growth. This review addresses recent discoveries in N metabolism and transport and their relevance for improving N use efficiency under high and low N conditions.