The conformational properties of the atrial natriuretic peptide atriopeptin III were investigated by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. Infrared spectra in the amide I region were analyzed quantitatively using deconvolution and band-fitting procedures. According to this analysis, in aqueous solution the monomeric peptide has a random structure. Binding to bilayer vesicles of dimyristoyl phosphatidylglycerol results in drastic conformational changes. The lipid-complexed atriopeptin III adopts a highly ordered structure of predominantly beta-sheets. A transition to a similar, but not identical, beta-structure occurs upon self-association of the peptide. The results of model experiments suggest that the binding of this atrial peptide to the target cell membrane is associated with the induction of beta-sheet structure and that it is this latter conformation that is predominant in the active form of the hormone.