A conserved motif, GXXX(D/E)(R/K)XG(R/K)(R/K), is found in a large group of evolutionarily related membrane proteins involved in the transport of small molecules across the membrane. This motif is located within the cytoplasmic side of transmembrane domain 2 (TM-2) and extends through the hydrophilic loop that connects transmembrane domains 2 and 3. The motif is repeated again in the second half of the protein. In a previous study concerning the loop 2/3 motif (Jessen-Marshall, A. E., Paul, N. J., and Brooker, R. J. (1995) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 16251-16257), it was shown that the conserved aspartate at the fifth position in the motif is critical for transport activity since a variety of site-directed mutations were found to greatly diminish the rate of transport. In the current study, two of these mutations, in which the conserved aspartate was changed to threonine or serine, were used as parental strains to isolate second site suppressor mutations that restore transport function. A total of 10 different second site mutations were identified among a screen of 19 independent mutants. One of the suppressors was found within loop 1/2 in which Thr-45 was changed to arginine. Since the conserved aspartate and position 45 are at opposite ends of TM-2, these results suggest that the role of the conserved aspartate residue in loop 2/3 is to influence the topology of TM-2. Surprisingly, the majority of suppressor mutations were found in the second half of the permease. All of these are expected to alter helix topology in either of two ways. Some of the mutations involved residues within transmembrane segments 7 and 11 that produced substantial changes in side chain volume: TM-7 (Cys-234 → Trp or Phe, Gln-241 → Leu, and Phe-247 → Val) and TM-11 (Ser-366 → Phe). Alternatively, other mutations were highly disruptive substitutions at the ends of transmembrane segments or within hydrophilic loops (Gly-257 → Asp, Val-367 → Glu, Ala-369 → Pro, and a 5-codon insertion into loop 11/12). It is hypothesized that the effects of these suppressor mutations are to alter the helical topologies in the second half of the protein to facilitate a better interaction with the first half. Overall, these results are consistent with a transport model in which TM-2 acts as an important interface between the two halves of the lactose permease. According to our tertiary model, this interaction occurs between TM-2 and TM-11.