Reconstituted lipid bilayers of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine (DMPC) and gramicidin A' have been prepared by cosolubilizing gramicidin and DMPC in one of three organic solvent systems followed by vacuum drying and hydration. The conformational state of gramicidin as characterized by 23Na NMR, circular dichroism, and solid state 15N NMR is dependent upon the cosolubilizing solvent system. In particular, two conformational states are described; a state in which Na+ has minimal interactions with the polypeptide, referred to as a nonchannel state, and a state in which Na+ interacts very strongly with the polypeptide, referred to as the channel state. Both of these conformations are intimately associated with the hydrophobic core of the lipid bilayer. Furthermore, both of these states are stable in the bilayer at neutral pH and at a temperature above the bilayer phase transition temperature. These results with gramicidin suggest that the conformation of membrane proteins may be dictated by the conformation before membrane insertion and may be dependent upon the mechanism by which the insertion is accomplished.