Maltooligosaccharides up to maltoheptaose are transported by the maltodextrin transport system of Escherichia coli. The overall substrate specificity of the transport system was investigated by using 15 maltodextrin analogues with various modifications at the reducing end of the oligosaccharides as competing substrates. The binding interaction of the analogues with maltoporin in the outer membrane and the periplasmic maltose-binding protein, the two protein components of the transport system with known specificity for maltodextrins, was also investigated. All analogues containing several alpha, 1----4-glucosyl linkages were bound with high affinity by maltoporin and maltose-binding protein, regardless of O-methyl, O-nitrophenyl, beta-glucosyl or beta-fructosyl substitutions at the reducing end of the dextrins. Introduction of a negative charge or lack of a ring structure at the reducing end were also ineffective in abolishing binding by these two proteins. These results suggest that the structure of the reducing glucose is not important in the binding specificity of maltoporin or maltose-binding protein. However, the high affinity of these proteins for analogues was not in itself sufficient for recognition by the transport system overall. Maltohexaitol, 4-nitrophenyl alpha-maltotetraoside and 4-beta-D-maltopentaosyl-D-glucopyranose were bound with the same affinity as comparable maltodextrins by both maltoporin and maltose-binding protein but were poorly recognized by the transport system. These results suggest that another, yet uninvestigated component of the transport system has a more restricted specificity towards changes at the reducing end of the maltodextrin molecule.