The aspartate receptor is a transmembrane-signalling protein that mediates chemotaxis behaviour in bacteria. Aspartate receptors in Salmonella typhimurium and Escherichia coli exist as dimers of two subunits in the presence as well as in the absence of aspartate. We have previously reported the three-dimensional structures of the external ligand-binding domain of the S. typhimurium aspartate receptor with and without bound aspartate. The external or periplasmic region of the aspartate receptor is a dimer of four-alpha-helical bundle subunits; a single aspartate molecule binds to one of two sites residing at the subunit interface, increasing the affinity of the subunits for one another. Here we report the results of a detailed analysis of the aspartate receptor ligand-binding domain structure (residues 25 to 188). The dimer interface between the twofold related subunits consists primarily of contacts mediated by the side-chains of the N-terminal helix of each four-alpha-helical bundle subunit. The N-terminal helices pack approximately 20 degrees from parallel as an approximate coiled-coil super-secondary structure. We have refined aspartate receptor ligand-binding domain structures in the presence and in the absence of a bound aromatic compound, 1,10-phenanthroline, to 2.2 A and 2.3 A resolution, respectively, as well as crystal structures in the presence of specifically bound Au(I), Hg(II) and Pt(IV) complex ions at 2.4 A, 3.0 A and 3.3 A resolution, respectively. The possible biological relevance of the aromatic ligand-binding site and the metal ion-binding sites is discussed. The dimer of four-alpha-helical bundle subunits composing the periplasmic region of the S. typhimurium aspartate receptor provides a basis for understanding the results of mutational analyses performed on related chemotaxis transmembrane receptors. The crystal structure analysis provides an explanation for the way in which mutations in the E. coli aspartate receptor affect its binding to the periplasmic maltose-binding protein and how mutations in the more distantly related E. coli Trg chemotaxis receptor affect its binding to the periplasmic ribose and glucose-galactose binding proteins.