This study demonstrates how the intramolecular nuclear Overhauser effect (NOE) experiment can be employed quantitatively to select from a set of possible conformations for a peptide or a protein the particular conformation (or a group of conformations) most consistent with the data. This procedure is demonstrated on a model depsipeptide system--valinomycin K+ in CDCl3--for which the solution conformation has been inferred by other methods. The NOE enhancements are very sensitive to the conformations assumed by this antibiotic. It is shown that the set of conformations, collectively labeled as A2 (including the X-ray crystallographic structure) gives a very good description of the NOE enhancements. The structure proposed by Bystrov et al. (1977. Eur. J. Biochem. 78:63) for the uncomplexed valinomycin in nonpolar solvents is also consistent with the experimental data on the potassium complex. Using statistical hypothesis testing involving the Hamilton R-factor ratio criterion, all the other models have been rejected as inconsistent with the experimental data. A general formalism is presented for describing the NOE effects in isotropically reorienting molecules. The formalism is not restricted to the extreme narrowing limit of the rotational correlation times and hence applies to both small and large molecules. Some of the factors that can influence the NOE measurements, viz. anisotropic rotational diffusion, conformational averaging, and nuclear spin diffusion, have been considered in this study. © 1978, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.