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Galactose-nonfermenting (Gal-) Streptococcus thermophilus TS2 releases galactose into the extracellular medium when grown in medium containing excess lactose. Starved and de-energized Gal- cells, however, could be loaded with galactose to levels approximately equal to the extracellular concentration (0 to 50 mM). When loaded cells were separated from the medium and re-suspended in fresh broth containing 5 mM lactose, galactose efflux occurred. De-energized, galactose-loaded cells, re-suspended in buffer or medium, accumulated ['4C]lactose at a greater rate and to significantly higher intracellular concentrations than unloaded cells. Uptake of lactose by loaded cells was inhibited more than that by unloaded cells in the presence of extracellular galactose, indicating that a galactose gradient was involved in the exchange system. When de-energized, galactose-loaded cells were re-suspended in carbohydrate-free medium at pH 6.7, a proton motive force (Δp) of 86 to 90 mV was formed, whereas de-energized, non-loaded cells maintained a Δp of about 56 mV. However, uptake of lactose by loaded cells occurred when the proton motive force was abolished by the addition of an uncoupler or in the presence of a proton-translocating ATPase inhibitor. These results support the hypothesis that galactose efflux in Gal- S. thermophilus is electrogenic and that the exchange reaction (lactose uptake and galactose efflux) probably occurs via an antiporter system.