The domain structures of lipid-free and lipid-bound apolipoprotein A-I (apo A-I) containing reduced and oxidized methionines were analyzed by limited proteolysis. Lipid-free apo A-I is cleaved primarily in the extreme carboxy-terminus and, to a much lesser extent, in the central region of the protein between residues 115 and 136. Oxidation of methionines 112 and 148 to the corresponding sulfoxides in putative amphipathic helices 4 (P99- E120) and 6 (P143-A164), respectively, causes helices 1 (L44-G65), 2 (P66-S87), and 7 (P165-G186) to become susceptible to protease digestion. These results are consistent with a discrete, globular tertiary structure for the lipid-free protein minimally formed from amphipathic helices 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7. In distinct contrast to lipid-free apo A-I, lipid-bound apo A-I is most susceptible to cleavage in the extreme amino-terminus and, to a lesser extent, in both the central and carboxy-terminal regions. The observed cleavage pattern for the reduced lipid-bound protein supports the existence of many of the turns between helices predicted by sequence analysis of the lipid-bound protein. Methionine oxidation of lipid-bound protein results in a decreased protease susceptibility in the extreme amino-terminus and a concomitant increase in protease susceptibility in the central and carboxy- terminal regions. The results from methionine oxidation indicate the oxidation state of the protein is an important determinant in defining the conformation of both lipid-free and lipid-bound apo A-I.