Human apolipoprotein A-I (apo A-I) possesses multiple tandem repeating 22-mer amphipathic alpha-helixes. Computer analysis and studies of model synthetic peptides and recombinant protein-lipid complexes of phospholipids have suggested that apo A-I interacts with HDL surface lipids through cooperation among its individual amphipathic helical domains. To delineate the overall lipid-associating properties of apo A-I, the first step is to understand the lipid-associating properties of individual amphipathic helical domains. To this end, we synthesized and studied each of the eight tandem repeating 22-mer domains of apo A-I: residues 44-65, 66-87, 99-120, 121-142, 143-164, 165-186, 187-208, and 220-241. Among the 22-mers, only the N- and C-terminal peptides (44-65 and 220-241) were effective in clarifying multilamellar vesicles (MLVs) of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC). These two peptides also exhibited the highest partition coefficient into 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphatidylcholine liposomes, the highest exclusion pressure for penetration into an egg yolk phosphatidylcholine monolayer, and the greatest reduction in the enthalpy of the gel-to-liquid crystalline phase transition of DMPC MLVs. These results suggest that the strong, lipid-associating properties of apo A-I are localized to the N- and C-terminal amphipathic domains. Although each of the eight peptides studied has an amphipathic structure, models based on changes in residual effective amino acid hydrophobicity resulting from differing depths of helix penetration into the lipid are best able to explain the high lipid affinity possessed by the two terminal domains. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) studies showed that on a molar basis, apo A-I is about 10 times more effective than the most effective peptide analyzed in reducing the enthalpy of the gel-to-liquid crystalline phase transition of DMPC MLVs. Because previous proteolysis experiments coupled with the present DSC results suggest that the lipid-associating domains of apo A-I are distributed throughout the length of the 243 amino acid residues, we propose that the terminal amphipathic helical domains are involved in the initial binding of apo A-I to the lipid surface to form HDL particles, followed by cooperative binding of the middle six amphipathic helical domains, perhaps aided by salt-bridge formation between adjacent helixes arranged in an antiparallel orientation.