We report a novel strategy for selecting mutations that mislocalize lipoproteins within the Escherichia coli cell envelope and describe the mutants obtained. A strain carrying a deletion of the chromosomal malE gene, coding for the periplasmic maltose-binding protein (MalE), cannot use maltose unless a wild-type copy of malE is present in trans. Replacement of the natural signal peptide of preMalE by the signal peptide and the first four amino acids of a cytoplasmic membrane-anchored lipoprotein resulted in N-terminal fatty acylation of MalE (lipoMalE) and anchoring to the periplasmic face of the cytoplasmic membrane, where it could still function. When the aspartate at position +2 of this protein was replaced by a serine, lipoMalE was sorted to the outer membrane, where it could not function. Chemical mutagenesis followed by selection for maltose-using mutants resulted in the identification of two classes of mutations. The single class I mutant carried a plasmid-borne mutation that replaced the serine at position +2 by phenylalanine. Systematic substitutions of the amino acid at position +2 revealed that, besides phenylalanine, tryptophan, tyrosine, glycine and proline could all replace classical cytoplasmic membrane lipoprotein sorting signal (aspartate +2). Analysis of known and putative lipoproteins encoded by the E. coli K-12 genome indicated that these amino acids are rarely found at position +2. In the class II mutants, a chromosomal mutation caused small and variable amounts of lipoMalE to remain associated with the cytoplasmic membrane. Similar amounts of another, endogenous outer membrane lipoprotein, NlpD, were also present in the cytoplasmic membrane in these mutants, indicating a minor, general defect in the sorting of outer membrane lipoproteins. Four representative class II mutants analysed were shown not to carry mutations in the lolA or lolB genes, known to be involved in the sorting of lipoproteins to the outer membrane.