Recently, a new type of K+ transporter, Ktr, has been identified in the bacterium Vibrio alginolyticus (T. Nakamura, R. Yuda, T. Unemoto, and E. P. Bakker, J. Bacteriol. 180:3491-3494, 1998). The Ktr transport system consists of KtrB, an integral membrane subunit, and KtrA, a subunit peripherally bound to the cytoplasmic membrane. The genome sequence of Bacillus subtilis contains two genes for each of these subunits: yuaA (ktrA) and ykqB (ktrC) encode homologues to the V. alginolyticus KtrA protein, and yubG (ktrB) and ykrM (ktrD) encode homologues to the V. alginolyticus KtrB protein. We constructed gene disruption mutations in each of the four B. subtilis ktr genes and used this isogenic set of mutants for K+ uptake experiments. Preliminary K+ transport assays revealed that the KtrAB system has a moderate affinity with a Km value of approximately 1 mM for K+, while KtrCD has a low affinity with a Km value of approximately 10 mM for this ion. A strain defective in both KtrAB and KtrCD exhibited only a residual K+ uptake activity, demonstrating that KtrAB and KtrCD systems are the major K+ transporters of B. subtilis. Northern blot analyses revealed that ktrA and ktrB are cotranscribed as an operon, whereas ktrC and ktrD, which occupy different locations on the B. subtilis chromosome, are expressed as single transcriptional units. The amount of K+ in the environment or the salinity of the growth medium did not influence the amounts of the various ktr transcripts. A strain with a defect in KtrAB is unable to cope with a sudden osmotic upshock, and it exhibits a growth defect at elevated osmolalities which is particularly pronounced when KtrCD is also defective. In the ktrAB strain, the osmotically mediated growth defect was associated with a rapid loss of K+ ions from the cells. Under these conditions, the cells stopped synthesizing proteins but the transcription of the osmotically induced proHJ, opuA, and gsiB genes was not impaired, demonstrating that a high cytoplasmic K+ concentration is not essential for the transcriptional activation of these genes at high osmolarity. Taken together, our data suggest that K+ uptake via KtrAB and KtrCD is an important facet in the cellular defense of B. subtilis against both suddenly imposed and prolonged osmotic stress.