- The interaction of many lytic cationic antimicrobial peptides with their target cells involves electrostatic interactions, hydrophobic effects, and the formation of amphipathic secondary structures, such as alpha helices or beta sheets. We have shown in previous studies that incorporating approximately 30%d-amino acids into a short alpha helical lytic peptide composed of leucine and lysine preserved the antimicrobial activity of the parent peptide, while the hemolytic activity was abolished. However, the mechanisms underlying the unique structural features induced by incorporating d-amino acids that enable short diastereomeric antimicrobial peptides to preserve membrane binding and lytic capabilities remain unknown. In this study, we analyze in detail the structures of a model amphipathic alpha helical cytolytic peptide KLLLKWLL KLLK-NH2 and its diastereomeric analog and their interactions with zwitterionic and negatively charged membranes. Calculations based on high-resolution NMR experiments in dodecylphosphocholine (DPCho) and sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) micelles yield three-dimensional structures of both peptides. Structural analysis reveals that the peptides have an amphipathic organization within both membranes. Specifically, the alpha helical structure of the L-type peptide causes orientation of the hydrophobic and polar amino acids onto separate surfaces, allowing interactions with both the hydrophobic core of the membrane and the polar head group region. Significantly, despite the absence of helical structures, the diastereomer peptide analog exhibits similar segregation between the polar and hydrophobic surfaces. Further insight into the membrane-binding properties of the peptides and their depth of penetration into the lipid bilayer has been obtained through tryptophan quenching experiments using brominated phospholipids and the recently developed lipid/polydiacetylene (PDA) colorimetric assay. The combined NMR, FTIR, fluorescence, and colorimetric studies shed light on the importance of segregation between the positive charges and the hydrophobic moieties on opposite surfaces within the peptides for facilitating membrane binding and disruption, compared to the formation of alpha helical or beta sheet structures.