The periplasmic maltose binding protein, MalE, is a major element in maltose transport and in chemotaxis towards this sugar. Previous genetic analysis of the MalE protein revealed functional domains involved in transport and chemotactic functions. Among them the surface located alpha helix 7, which is part of the C-lobe, one of the two lobes forming the three dimensional structure of MalE. Small deletions in this region abolished maltose transport, although maintaining wild-type affinity and specificity as well as a normal chemoreceptor function. It was suggested that alpha helix 7 may be implicated in interactions between the maltose binding protein and the membrane-bound protein complex (Duplay P, Szmelcman S. 1987. Silent and functional changes in the periplasmic maltose binding protein of Escherichia coli K12. II. Chemotaxis towards maltose. J Mol Biol 194:675-678: Duplay P, Szmelcman S, Bedouelle H, Hofnung M. 1987. Silent and functional changes in the periplasmic maltose binding protein of Escherichia coli K12. I: Transport of maltose. J Mol Biol 194:663-673). In this study, we submitted a region of 14 residues--Asp 207 to Gly 220--encompassing alpha helix 7, to genetic analysis by oligonucleotide mediated random mutagenesis. Out of 127 identified mutations, twelve single and five double mutants with normal affinities towards maltose were selected for further investigation. Two types of mutations were characterized, silent mutations that did not affect maltose transport and mutations that heavily impaired transport kinetics, even thought the maltose binding capacity of the mutant proteins remained normal. Three substitutions at Tyr 210 (Y210S, Y210L, Y210N) drastically reduced maltose transport. One substitution at Ala 213 (A213I) and one substitution at Glu 214 (E214K) also impaired transport. These three identified residues, Tyr 210, Ala 213, and Glu 214, which are constituents of alpha helix 7, therefore seem to play some important role in maltose transport, most probably in a productive interaction between the MalE protein and the membrane bound MalFGK2 complex.