Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy was used to characterize the lamellar phases of 1,3-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-2-phosphocholine (1,3-DPPC), a positional isomer of 1,2-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (1,2-DPPC). The molecule exists in three distinct phases over the temperature interval 0-70°C. In the low-temperature (Lc) phase, the spectra are indicative of acyl chains packed in an orthorhombic subcell, while the carbonyl groups and phosphate ester at the head group show evidence of only partial hydration. The transition from the low-temperature (Lc) phase to the intermediate-temperature (Lβ) phase at 25°C corresponds to a temperature-induced head-group hydration in which the hydration of the phosphate and carbonyl ester groups results in the reorganization of the hydrocarbon chain-packing subcell from orthorhombic to hexagonal. The transition from the intermediate (Lβ) to the high-temperature (Lα) phase at 37°C is a gel-to-liquid-crystalline phase transition analogous to the 41.5°C transition of 1,2-DPPC. The spectra of the acyl-chain carbonyl groups show evidence of significant differences in molecular conformation at the carbonyl esters in the Lc phase. In the Lβ and Lα phases, the carbonyl band contour becomes much more symmetric. However, two components are clearly present in the spectra indicating that the sn-1 and sn-3 carbonyls experience slightly different environments. The observed differences are likely due to a preferred conformation of the phosphocholine group relative to the glycerol backbone. Indications from the infrared spectra of differences in the structure of the CO groups provide a possible explanation for the selection of the sn-1 chain of 1,3-DPPC by phospholipase A2 on the basis of a preferred head group conformation. © 1985.