Amino acids are actively transported across the plasma membrane of plant cells by proton-coupled symports. Previously, we identified four amino acid symports in isolated plasma membrane vesicles, including two porters for the neutral amino acids. Here we investigated the effect of amino acid analogues on neutral amino acid transport to identify structural features that are important in molecular recognition by Neutral System I (isoleucine) and Neutral System II (alanine and leucine). D-Isomers of alanine and isoleucine were not effective transport antagonists of the L-isomers. These data are characteristic of stereospecificity and suggest that the positional relationship between the alpha-amino and carboxyl groups is an important parameter in substrate recognition. This conclusion was supported by the observation that beta-alanine and analogues with methylation at the alpha-carbon, at the carboxyl group, or at the alpha-amino group were not effective transport inhibitors. Specific binding reactions were also implicated in these experiments because substitution of the alpha-amino group with a space filling methyl or hydroxyl group eliminated transport inhibition. In contrast, analogues with various substitutions at the distal end of the amino acid were potent antagonists. Moreover, the relative activity of several analogues was influenced by the location of sidechain branches and Neutral Systems I and II were resolved based on differential sensitivity to branching at the beta-carbon. The kinetics of azaserine and p-nitrophenylalanine inhibition of leucine transport were competitive. We conclude that the binding site for the carboxyl end of the amino acid is a well-defined space that is characterized by compact, asymmetric positional relationships and specific ligand interactions. Although the molecular interactions associated with the distal portion of the amino acid were less restrictive, this component of the enzyme-substrate complex is also important in substrate recognition because the neutral amino acid symports are able to discriminate between specific neutral amino acids and exclude the acidic and basic amino acids.