Flavodoxins are electron carrier flavoproteins that are involved in the response to oxidative stress in bacteria and cyanobacteria. Recently, we obtained Sinorhizobium meliloti bacteria that overexpressed a flavodoxin from the cyanobacterium Anabaena variabilis [Redondo et al. (2009) Plant Physiology 149:1166-1178]. In the present work, tolerance to cadmium was evaluated in free-living transformed S. meliloti and in alfalfa plants nodulated by the flavodoxin-overexpressing rhizobia, in comparison with plants nodulated by wild-type bacteria. Overexpression of flavodoxin protected free-living S. meliloti from cadmium toxicity and had a positive effect on nitrogen fixation of alfalfa plants subjected to cadmium stress. Flavodoxin notably reduced cadmium-induced structural and ultrastructural alterations in alfalfa nodules. Putative protection mechanisms in flavodoxin-overexpressing nodules are discussed. Flavodoxin could have applications as a biotechnological tool to improve the symbiotic performance of alfalfa and other legumes in cadmium polluted soils.