The dorsal glands of Australian tree frogs from the Litoria species contain a diversity of antibiotic peptides that forms part of the defence system of the animal. Here, the antibiotic activity and structure of maculatin 1.1, a 21 amino acid peptide from Litoria genimaculata, are compared. The activity data on maculatin 1.1 and a series of its analogues imply that the mechanism of action of maculatin 1.1 involves binding to, and subsequent lysis of, the bacterial cell membrane. The structure of maculatin 1.1 was determined using NMR spectroscopy in a trifluoroethanol/water mixture and when incorporated into dodecylphosphocholine micelles. Under both conditions, the peptide adopts a very similar conformation, i.e. a helical structure with a central kink in the vicinity of Pro15. The kink allows the peptide to adopt a well-defined amphipathic conformation along its entire length. The similar structures determined under both solvent conditions imply that structures of membrane-interacting peptides in trifluoroethanol/water mixtures are representative of those adopted in a membrane environment, e.g. when incorporated into micelles. The synthetic Ala15 analogue of maculatin 1.1 has markedly reduced activity and its NMR-derived structure is a well-defined helix, which lacks the central kink and flexibility of the parent molecule. It is concluded that the kink is important for full biological activity of the peptide, probably because it allows maximum amphipathicity of the peptide to facilitate interaction with the membrane. The structure of maculatin 1.1 is compared with a related peptide, caerin 1.1 [Wong, H., Bowie, J.H. and Carver, J.A. (1997) Eur. J. Biochem. 247, 545-557], which has an additional central proline residue and enhanced central flexibility compared with maculatin 1.1. The role of central flexibility within antibiotic peptides in their interaction with bacterial membranes is discussed.