The expression of the maltose regulon in Escherichia coli is induced when maltose or maltodextrins are present in the growth medium. Mutations in malK, which codes for a component of the transport system, result in the elevated expression of the remaining mal genes. Uninduced expression in the wild type, as well as elevated expression in malK mutants, is strongly repressed at high osmolarity. In the absence of malQ-encoded amylomaltase, expression remains high at high osmolarity. We found that uninduced expression in the wild type and elevated expression in malK mutants were paralleled by the appearance of two types of endogenous carbohydrates. One, produced primarily at high osmolarity, was identified as comprising maltodextrins that are derived from glycogen or glycogen-synthesizing enzymes. The other, produced primarily at low osmolarity, consisted of an oligosaccharide that was not derived from glycogen. We isolated a mutant that no longer synthesized this oligosaccharide. The gene carrying this mutation, termed malI, was mapped at min 36 on the E. coli linkage map. A Tn10 insertion in malI also resulted in the loss of constitutivity at low osmolarity and delayed the induction of the maltose regulon by exogenous inducers.