4F2hc is an almost ubiquitous transmembrane protein in mammalian cells; upon expression in Xenopus laevis oocytes, it induces amino acid transport with characteristics of system y+L. Indirect evidence fostered speculation that function requires the association of 4F2hc with another protein endogenous to oocytes and native tissues. We show that expression of system y+L-like amino acid transport activity by 4F2hc in oocytes is limited by an endogenous factor and that direct covalent modification of external cysteine residue(s) of an oocyte membrane protein blocks system y+L/4F2hc transport activity, based on the following. 1) Induction of system y+L-like activity saturates at very low doses of human 4F2hc cRNA (0.1 ng/oocyte). This saturation occurs with very low expression of 4F2hc at the oocyte surface, and further increased expression of the protein at the cell surface does not result in higher induction of system y+L-like activity. 2) Human 4F2hc contains only two cysteine residues (C109 and C330). We mutated these residues, singly and in combination, to serine (C109S; CS1, C330S; CS2 and C109S-C330S, Cys-less). Mutation CS2 had no effect on the expressed system y+L-like transport activity, whereas C109S-containing mutants (CS1 and Cys-less) retained only partial y+L-like transport activity (30 to 50% of wild type). 3) Hg2+, the organic mercury compounds pCMB, and the membrane-impermeant pCMBS almost completely inactivated system y+L-like induced by human 4F2hc wild type and all the mutants studied. This was reversed by ss-mercaptoethanol, indicating that external cysteine residue(s) are the target of this inactivation. 4) Sensitivity to Hg2+ inactivation is increased by pretreatment of oocytes with ss-mercaptoethanol or in the C109S-containing mutants (CS1 and Cys-less). The increased Hg2+ reactivity of C109S-containing mutants supports the possibility that C109 may be linked by a disulfide bond to the Hg2+-targeted cysteine residue of the associated protein. These results indicate that 4F2hc is intimately associated with a membrane oocyte protein for the expression of system y+L amino acid transport activity. To our knowledge, this is the first direct evidence for a heteromultimeric protein structure of an organic solute carrier in mammals.