EmrE is an Escherichia coli 12-kDa multidrug transporter, which confers resistance to a variety of toxic cations by removing them from the cell interior in exchange with two protons. EmrE has only one membrane-embedded charged residue, Glu-14, that is conserved in more than 50 homologous proteins and it is a simple model system to study the role of carboxylic residues in ion-coupled transporters. We have used mutagenesis and chemical modification to show that Glu-14 is part of the substrate binding site. Its role in proton binding and translocation was shown by a study of the effect of pH on ligand binding, uptake, efflux and exchange reactions. We conclude that Glu-14 is an essential part of a binding site, common to substrates and protons. The occupancy of this site is mutually exclusive and provides the basis of the simplest coupling of two fluxes.