Fluorescence properties of 6-lauroyl-2-dimethylaminonaphthalene (Laurdan) are used to explore gel and liquid-crystalline phase domains coexistence in membranes of various cell types and in erythrocyte ghosts. Experiments and simulations were performed using liposomes composed of equimolar gel and liquid-crystalline phases in the absence and in the presence of 30 mol% cholesterol. In this model system two distinct coexisting phases can be easily recognized in the absence of cholesterol. When cholesterol is added to this phospholipid mixture, Laurdan parameters characteristic of the gel and of the liquid-crystalline phase are no longer resolvable. Coexisting domains of gel and liquid-crystalline phase were not detected in any of the examined cell membranes as judged by Laurdan excitation and emission Generalized Polarization (GP) spectra. Both in liposomes and in cell membranes, the behaviour of GP values as a function of excitation and emission wavelength corresponds to a homogeneous liquid-crystalline phase, despite the absolute GP values being relatively high, closer to the values observed in gel phase phospholipids. The presence of cholesterol appears to be the major cause for the homogeneity of phospholipids' dynamical properties in natural membranes, properties that appear close to the liquid-ordered phase state, defined to describe model systems with cholesterol concentration > or = 30 mol%.