Tripartite efflux systems of Gram-negative bacteria that contain an inner membrane transporter belonging to the resistance nodulation division (RND) superfamily can extrude a large variety of structurally diverse compounds. To gain an insight into the molecular mechanisms of substrate recognition by these multidrug resistance (MDR) transporters, we isolated spontaneous mutations that altered the substrate specificity of the MexCD-OprJ pump from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These mutations enabled the pump to extrude the normally non-transported beta-lactam antibiotic carbenicillin. All amino acid substitutions were mapped to the large periplasmic loops (LPLs) of the RND proper, MexD. Q34K, E89K, A292V and P328L were found in the first LPL, located between transmembrane domains (TMD) 1 and 2, whereas F608S and N673K were contained in the second LPL, located between TMD7 and TMD8. These mutations also had a substantial impact on the MexCD-OprJ-mediated transport of numerous other substrates. Subsequent replacement of amino acid residues identified above by cysteines rendered MexCD-OprJ susceptible to inhibition by a thiol-reactive agent, MIANS. Interestingly, MIANS inhibited the transport of some (pyronin, EtBr) but not other (ANS, Leu-Nap) substrates of the pump. Our results suggest that the precise structure of the periplasmic loops of MexD determines the rate of transport of individual substrates. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that, in the case of RND transporters, the LPLs are directly implicated in substrate recognition and contain multiple sites of interaction for various structurally diverse compounds.