The presence of a reactive exofacial sulfhydryl on the human erythrocyte hexose carrier was used to test several predictions of the alternating conformation or one-site model of transport. The cell-impermeant glutathione-maleimide-I (GS-Mal) irreversibly inhibited hexose entry by decreasing the transport Vmax. This effect was potentiated by phloretin and maltose but decreased by cytochalasin B, indicating that under the one-site model the external sulfhydryl is on the outward-facing carrier but that it does not overlap with the exofacial substrate-binding site. Incubation of erythrocytes with maltose competitively inhibited the binding of [3H]cytochalasin B to the inward-facing carrier (Ki = 40 mM). Furthermore, both equilibrium cytochalasin B binding and its photolabeling of the band 4.5 carrier protein were decreased in ghosts prepared from GS-Mal-treated cells. Thus induction of an outward-facing carrier conformation with either maltose or GS-Mal caused the endofacial substrate-binding site to disappear. Dose-response studies of GS-Mal treatment of intact cells suggested that some functional carriers lack a reactive external sulfhydryl, which can be partially regenerated by pretreatment with excess cysteine. These data provide direct support for the one-site model of transport and further define the role of the external sulfhydryl in the transport mechanism.