The possibility of rapid validation and functional analysis of nematode resistance genes is a common objective for numerous species and particularly for woody species. In this aim, we developed an Agrobacterium rhizogenes-mediated transformation protocol for Coffea arabica enabling efficient and rapid regeneration of transformed roots from the hypocotyls of germinated zygotic embryos, and the subsequent production of composite plants. The A. rhizogenes strain A4RS proved to be the most virulent. High transformation efficiencies (70%) were obtained using a 2-week co-cultivation period at a temperature of 15-18°C. Using a p35S-gusA-int construct inserted in the pBIN19 binary plasmid, we could estimate that 35% of transformed roots were GUS positive (co-transformed). Using the GUS assay as visual marker, 40% composite plants bearing a branched co-transformed rootstock could be obtained after only 12 weeks without selection with herbicides or antibiotics. Transgenic coffee roots obtained with A. rhizogenes did not exhibit the 'hairy' disturbed phenotype and were morphologically similar to normal roots. PCR analyses demonstrated that all co-transformed roots were positive for the expected rolB and gusA genes. Transformed and non-transformed root systems from both susceptible and resistant varieties were inoculated with Meloidogyne exigua nematode individuals. Inoculation of composite plants from the Caturra susceptible variety resulted in the normal development of nematode larvae. Numbers of extracted nematodes demonstrated that transformed roots retain the resistance/sensibility phenotype of varieties from which they are derived. These results suggest that composite plants constitute a powerful tool for studying nematode resistance genes. © Springer-Verlag 2006.