The NuoD segment (homologue of mitochondrial 49 kDa subunit) of the proton-translocating NADH:quinone oxidoreductase (complex I/NDH-1) from Escherichia coli is in the hydrophilic domain and bears many highly conserved amino acid residues. The three-dimensional structural model of NDH-1 suggests that the NuoD segment, together with the neighboring subunits, constitutes a putative quinone binding cavity. We used the homologous DNA recombination technique to clarify the role of selected key amino acid residues of the NuoD segment. Among them, residues Tyr273 and His224 were considered candidates for having important interactions with the quinone headgroup. Mutant Y273F retained partial activity but lost sensitivity to capsaicin-40. Mutant H224R scarcely affected the activity, suggesting that this residue may not be essential. His224 is located in a loop near the N-terminus of the NuoD segment (Gly217-Phe227) which is considered to form part of the quinone binding cavity. In contrast to the His224 mutation, mutants G217V, P218A, and G225V almost completely lost the activity. One region of this loop is positioned close to a cytosolic loop of the NuoA subunit in the membrane domain, and together they seem to be important in keeping the quinone binding cavity intact. The structural role of the longest helix in the NuoD segment located behind the quinone binding cavity was also investigated. Possible roles of other highly conserved residues of the NuoD segment are discussed.