Na(+)/H(+) antiporters are ubiquitous membrane proteins and play an important role in cell homeostasis. We amplified a gene encoding a member of the monovalent cation:proton antiporter-2 (CPA2) family (TC 2.A.37) from the Thermus thermophilus genome and expressed it in Escherichia coli. The gene product was identified as a member of the NapA subfamily and was found to be an active Na(+)(Li(+))/H(+) antiporter as it conferred resistance to the Na(+) and Li(+) sensitive strain E. coli EP432 (DeltanhaA, DeltanhaB) upon exposure to high concentration of these salts in the growth medium. Fluorescence measurements using the pH sensitive dye 9-amino-6-chloro-2-methoxyacridine in everted membrane vesicles of complemented E. coli EP432 showed high Li(+)/H(+) exchange activity at pH 6, but marginal Na(+)/H(+) antiport activity. Towards more alkaline conditions, Na(+)/H(+) exchange activity increased to a relative maximum at pH 8, where by contrast the Li(+)/H(+) exchange activity reached its relative minimum. Substitution of conserved residues D156 and D157 (located in the putative transmembrane helix 6) with Ala resulted in the complete loss of Na(+)/H(+) activity. Mutation of K305 (putative transmembrane helix 10) to Ala resulted in a compromised phenotype characterized by an increase in apparent K(m) for Na(+) (36 vs. 7.6 mM for the wildtype) and Li(+) (17 vs. 0.22 mM), In summary, the Na(+)/H(+) antiport activity profile of the NapA type transporter of T. thermophilus resembles that of NhaA from E. coli, whereas in contrast to NhaA the T. thermophilus NapA antiporter is characterized by high Li(+)/H(+) antiport activity at acidic pH.