Organic anion transporters (OATs) and organic cation transporters (OCTs) mediate the flux of xenobiotics across the plasma membranes of epithelia. Substrates of OATs generally carry negative charge(s) whereas substrates of OCTs are cations. The goal of this study was to determine the domains and amino acid residues essential for recognition and transport of organic anions by the rat organic anion transporter, rOAT3. An rOAT3/rOCT1 chimera containing transmembrane domains 1-5 of rOAT3 and 6-12 of rOCT1 retained the specificity of rOCT1, suggesting that residues involved in substrate recognition reside within the carboxyl-terminal half of these transporters. Mutagenesis of a conserved basic amino acid residue, arginine 454 to aspartic acid (R454D), revealed that this amino acid is required for organic anion transport. The uptakes of p-aminohippurate (PAH), estrone sulfate, and ochratoxin A were approximately 10-, approximately 48-, and approximately 32-fold enhanced in oocytes expressing rOAT3 and were only approximately 2-, approximately 6-, and approximately 5-fold enhanced for R454D. Similarly, mutagenesis of the conserved lysine 370 to alanine (K370A) suggested that K370 is important for organic anion transport. Interestingly, the charge specificity of the double mutant, R454DK370A, was reversed in comparison to rOAT3-R454DK370A preferentially transported the organic cation, MPP(+), in comparison to PAH (MPP(+) uptake/PAH uptake = 3.21 for the double mutant vs 0.037 for rOAT3). These data indicate that arginine 454 and lysine 370 are essential for the anion specificity of rOAT3. The studies provide the first insights into the molecular determinants that are critical for recognition and translocation of organic anions by a member of the organic anion transporter family.