The Tar chemoreceptor of Escherichia coli exhibits partial sensory additivity. Tar can mediate simultaneous responses to two disparate ligands, aspartate and substrate-loaded maltose-binding protein (MBP). To investigate how one receptor generates concurrent signals to two stimuli, ligand-binding asymmetry was imposed on the rotationally symmetric Tar homodimer. Mutations causing specific defects in aspartate or maltose chemotaxis were introduced pairwise into plasmid-borne tar genes. The doubly mutated tar genes did not restore aspartate or maltose chemotaxis in a strain containing a chromosomal deletion of tar (delta tar). However, when Tar proteins with complementing sets of mutations were co-expressed from compatible plasmids, the resulting heterodimeric receptors enabled delta tar cells to respond to aspartate or maltose. The effect of one attractant on the response to the other depended on the relative orientations of the functional binding sites for aspartate and MBP. When the sites were in the 'same' orientation, saturating levels of one attractant strongly inhibited chemotaxis to the other. In the 'opposite' orientation, such inhibitory effects were negligible. These data demonstrate that opposing subunits of Tar can transmit signals to aspartate and maltose independently if the ligands are restricted to the 'opposite' binding orientation. When aspartate and MBP bind in the 'same' orientation, they compete for signalling through one subunit. In the wild-type Tar dimer, aspartate and MBP can bind in either the 'same' or the 'opposite' orientation, a freedom that can explain the partial additivity of the aspartate and maltose responses that is seen with tar+ cells.