Gram-negative bacteria are able to convert potential energy inherent in the proton gradient of the cytoplasmic membrane into active nutrient transport across the outer membrane. The transduction of energy is mediated by TonB protein. Previous studies suggest a model in which TonB makes sequential and cyclic contact with proteins in each membrane, a process called shuttling. A key feature of shuttling is that the amino-terminal signal anchor must quit its association with the cytoplasmic membrane, and TonB becomes associated solely with the outer membrane. However, the initial studies did not exclude the possibility that TonB was artifactually pulled from the cytoplasmic membrane by the fractionation process. To resolve this ambiguity, we devised a method to test whether the extreme TonB amino-terminus, located in the cytoplasm, ever became accessible to the cys-specific, cytoplasmic membrane-impermeant molecule, Oregon Green(R) 488 maleimide (OGM) in vivo. A full-length TonB and a truncated TonB were modified to carry a sole cysteine at position 3. Both full-length TonB and truncated TonB (consisting of the amino-terminal two-thirds) achieved identical conformations in the cytoplasmic membrane, as determined by their abilities to cross-link to the cytoplasmic membrane protein ExbB and their abilities to respond conformationally to the presence or absence of proton motive force. Full-length TonB could be amino-terminally labelled in vivo, suggesting that it was periplasmically exposed. In contrast, truncated TonB, which did not associate with the outer membrane, was not specifically labelled in vivo. The truncated TonB also acted as a control for leakage of OGM across the cytoplasmic membrane. Further, the extent of labelling for full-length TonB correlated roughly with the proportion of TonB found at the outer membrane. These findings suggest that TonB does indeed disengage from the cytoplasmic membrane during energy transduction and shuttle to the outer membrane.