Abstract Escherichia coli cells growing under osmotic stress activate systems for the transport or synthesis of several organic osmolytes. Glutamate and trehalose syntheses seem to represent mechanisms for achieving a low level of osmotic tolerance. The uptake and synthesis of betaines represent mechanisms of achieving a high level of osmotic tolerance. The osmotically-controlled ProP and ProU systems are involved in the uptake of glycine betaine and proline. However, glycine betaine synthesis occurs only in the presence of the precursor molecule choline. The osmotically controlled genes governing the high-affinity uptake of choline are located in close proximity to those encoding the dehydrogenases involved in the oxidation of choline to glycine betaine, but represent a different transcriptional unit. It is not known if each of these systems has its own osmotic sensor or whether a common osmotic sensor regulates all cell osmolytes.