We have characterized sulfate transport in the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii during growth under sulfur-sufficient and sulfur-deficient conditions. Both the Vmax and the substrate concentration at which sulfate transport is half of the maximum velocity of the sulfate transport (K1/2) for uptake were altered in starved cells: the Vmax increased approximately 10-fold, and the K1/2 decreased approximately 7-fold. This suggests that sulfur-deprived C. reinhardtii cells synthesize a new, high-affinity sulfate transport system. This system accumulated rapidly; it was detected in cells within 1 h of sulfur deprivation and reached a maximum by 6 h. A second response to sulfur-limited growth, the production of arylsulfatase, was apparent only after 3 h of growth in sulfur-free medium. The enhancement of sulfate transport upon sulfur starvation was prevented by cycloheximide, but not by chloramphenicol, demonstrating that protein synthesis on 80S ribosomes was required for the development of the new, high-affinity system. The transport of sulfate into the cells occurred in both the light and the dark. Inhibition of ATP formation by the antibiotics carbonylcyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone and gramicidin-S and inhibition of either F- or P-type ATPases by N,N-dicyclohexylcarbodiimide and vanadate completely abolished sulfate uptake. Furthermore, nigericin, a carboxylate ionophore that exchanges H+ for K+, inhibited transport in both the light and the dark. Finally, uptake in the dark was strongly inhibited by valinomycin. These results suggest that sulfate transport in C. reinhardtii is an energy-dependent process and that it may be driven by a proton gradient generated by a plasma membrane ATPase.