Membrane transport proteins transduce free energy stored in electrochemical ion gradients into a concentration gradient and are a major class of membrane proteins, many of which play important roles in human health and disease. Recently, the X-ray structure of the Escherichia coli lactose permease (LacY), an intensively studied member of a large group of related membrane transport proteins, was solved at 3.5 A. LacY is composed of N- and C-terminal domains, each with six transmembrane helices, symmetrically positioned within the molecule. The structure represents the inward-facing conformation, as evidenced by a large internal hydrophilic cavity open to the cytoplasmic side. The structure with a bound lactose homolog reveals the sugar-binding site in the cavity, and a mechanism for translocation across the membrane is proposed in which the sugar-binding site has alternating accessibility to either side of the membrane.