When cells with surface-bound diphtheria toxin were exposed to pH 4.5, the toxin became shielded against lactoperoxidase-catalyzed radioiodination, indicating that the toxin was inserted into the membrane. Cells thus treated had strongly reduced ability to take up 36Cl-, 35SO4(2-), and [14C]SCN-. The reduction of chloride uptake was strongest at neutral pH, whereas that of sulfate was strongest at acidic pH. Lineweaver-Burk plots indicated that the toxin treatment reduced the Jmax but not the Km for the anions. The toxin also inhibited the NaCl-stimulated efflux of 35SO4(2-), indicating that the toxin inhibits the antiporter. No inhibition was found when toxin-treated cells were not exposed to low pH, whereas exposure to pH 4.5 for 20 s induced close to maximal inhibition. Half-maximal inhibition was obtained after exposure to pH 5.4. The concentration of diphtheria toxin required to obtain maximal inhibition (0.3 micrograms/ml) was sufficient to ensure close to maximal toxin binding to the cells. Even in ATP-depleted cells and in the absence of permeant anions, low pH induced inhibition of anion antiport in toxin-treated Vero cells. There was no measurable inhibition of anion antiport in cells with little or no ability to bind the toxin.