Melittin free of phospholipase A2 was prepared. In the absence of salt this highly pure protein starts to aggregate in solution at a protein concentration of Cp greater than 10(-3) M. In high salt solution (2 M) aggregation starts at Cp greater than 10(-6) M. This was determined from the blue shift of the intrinsic fluorescence of the protein. Reinvestigation of the quenching behaviour clearly shows that self-aggregation cannot be deduced from quenching experiments using nitrate or 2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-1-oxyl as quencher. The incorporation of melittin into phosphatidylcholine bilayer vesicles was studied by fluorescence quenching and by energy-transfer experiments using 2- and 6-anthroyloxypalmitic acid as acceptor and peptide tryptophan as donor. Incorporation of melittin into small unilamellar vesicles was found to be reduced below the lipid phase transition temperature, Tt, whereas it incorporates and distributes more randomly above Tt. Cooling the temperature below Tt after incubation at T greater than Tt leads to a deeper incorporation of the peptide into the lipid bilayer due to electrostatic interaction between the lipid phosphate groups and the positively charged amino acids. This stabilizing effect is lost above Tt and melittin is extruded to the polar phase. Quenching experiments support this finding. EPR measurements clearly demonstrate that even in the presence of high amounts of melittin up to 10 mol% with respect to the lipid broadening of the phase transition curves was only observed with fatty acid spin labels, where the doxyl group is localized near the bilayer surface. The order degree of the inner part of the bilayer remains almost unchanged even in the presence of high melittin content.