The complete nucleotide sequence of the Escherichia coli nik locus, which has been suggested to encode the specific transport system for nickel, has been determined. It was found to contain five overlapping open reading frames that form a single transcription unit. Deduced amino acid sequence of the nik operon shows that its five gene products, NikA to NikE, are highly homologous to components of oligopeptide- and dipeptide-binding protein-dependent transport systems from several Gram-negative and Gram-positive species. NikA represents the periplasmic binding protein, NikB and NikC are similar to integral membrane components of periplasmic permeases, and NikD and NikE possess typical ATP-binding domains that suggest their energy coupling role to the transport process. Insertion mutations in nik genes totally abolished the nickel-containing hydrogenase activity under nickel limitation and markedly altered the rate of nickel transport. Taken together, these data support the notion that the nik operon encodes a typical periplasmic binding-protein-dependent transport system for nickel.