A comparative study of the effect of the polyene antibiotic amphotericin B (AmB) on the viability of Leishmania mexicana promastigotes before and after their transformation by heat into amastigotelike forms was carried out. The kinetics of cell death were followed by spectrofluorometry with the nucleic acid-binding compound ethidium bromide. It was found that the rapid killing effect that is exerted by AmB on Leishmania promastigotes was even faster after their transformation into amastigotelike forms. Binding studies of AmB to Leishmania membranes by circular dichroism indicated that heat transformation modified it from noncooperative to cooperative binding, decreasing the amount of antibiotic that bound to the membranes. Thus, the increased rate of ethidium bromide incorporation into transformed cells was not related either to the amount of AmB bound or to an increased amount of ergosterol in the membrane (the ergosterol/phospholipid ratio was four times smaller after heat shock). An increase in the Mg2+ content of the external aqueous solution was able to prevent the AmB-induced incorporation of ethidium bromide into Leishmania promastigotes to a greater extent (Ki = 13.8 mM) than it was into heat-transformed cells (Ki = 64 mM), suggesting that there were significant changes at the Leishmania cell surface on heat transformation. The significance of these results for understanding the mechanism of action of AmB on sensitive organisms is discussed.