It has been reported previously that Escherichia coli K-12 carries an amber mutation that prevents osmotic stress-dependent accumulation of trehalose (M. L. Rod, K. Y. Alam, P. R. Cunningham, and D. P. Clark, J. Bacteriol. 170:3601-3610, 1988). We report that E. coli K-12 and W1485 (sup0) accumulated trehalose but that they required a higher osmotic strength in the growth medium than that required by their sup+ derivatives. Furthermore, the sup+ derivatives displayed both strongly increased trehalose-6-phosphate synthase activity and expression of otsA-lacZ and otsB-lacZ operon fusions compared with their parental strains. It is suggested that the amber mutation in question may be in a gene system encoding a transcriptional activator of the ots genes which govern the synthase. The much-used sup0 strain MC4100 behaved like the sup+ derivatives of W1485 with respect to trehalose synthesis. treA mutants with a defective periplasmic trehalase accumulated trehalose extracellularly under osmotic stress. The amount of trehalose excreted correlated with their synthase activity. Strains with an intact trehalase did not display extracellular trehalose accumulation. Thus, stressed E. coli cells regulate the cytoplasmic level of trehalose by a futile cycle involving overproduction, excretion, and degradation to glucose, which is reutilized.