A determination of the spatial structure of the polypeptide hormone glucagon bound to perdeuterated dodecylphosphocholine micelles is described. A map of distance constraints between individually assigned hydrogen atoms of the polypeptide chain was obtained from two-dimensional nuclear Overhauser enhancement spectroscopy. These data were used as the input for a distance geometry algorithm for computing conformations that would be compatible with the experiments. In the region from residues 5 to 29 the mobility of the polypeptide backbone and most of the amino acid side-chains was found to be essentially restricted to the overall rotational tumbling of the micelles. The secondary structure in this region includes three turns of irregular alpha-helix in the segment of residues 17 to 29 near the C terminus, a stretch of extended polypeptide chain from residues 14 to 17, an alpha-helix-like turn formed by the residues 10 to 14 and another extended region from residues 5 to 10. In the N-terminal tetrapeptide H-His-Ser-Gln-Gly- the two terminal residues are highly mobile, indicating that they extend into the aqueous phase, and the mobility of the residues Gln3 and Gly4 appears to be only partially restricted by the binding to the micelle. The absence of long range nuclear Overhauser effects between the peptide segments 5-9 and 11-29, and between 5-16 and 19-29 shows that the polypeptide chain does not fold back on itself and hence that micelle-bound glucagon does not adopt a globular tertiary structure. Previously it was shown that the polypeptide backbone of glucagon is located close to and runs roughly parallel to the micelle surface. Combination of these observations suggests that the overall spatial arrangement of the glucagon polypeptide chain in a lipid-water interphase is largely determined by the topology of the lipid support, in the present case the curvature of the dodecylphosphocholine micelles. The tertiary structure is further characterized by the formation of two hydrophobic patches by the side-chains of Phe6, Tyr10 and Leu14, and the side-chains of Ala19, Phe22, Val23, Trp25 and Leu26, respectively.