A peptide containing only 4 amino acid residues (KRES) that is too small to form an amphipathic helix, reduced lipoprotein lipid hydroperoxides (LOOH), increased paraoxonase activity, increased plasma HDL-cholesterol levels, rendered HDL antiinflammatory, and reduced atherosclerosis in apoE null mice. KRES was orally effective when synthesized from either L or D-amino acids suggesting that peptide-protein interactions were not required. Remarkably, changing the order of 2 amino acids (from KRES to KERS) resulted in the loss of all biologic activity. Solubility in ethyl acetate and interaction with lipids, as determined by differential scanning calorimetry, indicated significant differences between KRES and KERS. Negative stain electron microscopy showed that KRES formed organized peptide-lipid structures whereas KERS did not. Another tetrapeptide FREL shared many of the physical-chemical properties of KRES and was biologically active in mice and monkeys when synthesized from either L- or D-amino acids. After oral administration KRES and FREL were found associated with HDL whereas KERS was not. We conclude that the ability of peptides to interact with lipids, remove LOOH and activate antioxidant enzymes associated with HDL determines their antiinflammatory and antiatherogenic properties regardless of their ability to form amphipathic helixes.