Alamethicin, a 20-amino acid peptide, has been studied for a number of years as a model for voltage-gated channels. Recently both the x-ray structure of alamethicin in crystal and an NMR solution structure have been published (Fox and Richards, 1982. Bannerjee et al., 1983). Both structures show that the amino end of the molecule forms a stable alpha-helix nine or 10 residues in length and that the COOH-terminal ends exhibits a variable hydrogen bonding pattern. We have used synthetic analogues of alamethicin to test various hypotheses of its mode of action. As a result of these studies we propose a channel structure in which the COOH-terminal residues bond together as a beta-barrel, leaving the alpha- helices free to rotate under the influence of the electric field and gate the channel. Though the number of monomers per channel varies with experimental conditions, the gating charge per monomer stays close to that expected from an alpha-helical gate. We can also alter the sign of the voltage which turns on a channel by varying the charge on the alamethicin analogue. Channels are always slightly cation-selective even though formed by monomers with negative, positive, or zero formal charge. Channels are less stable in low ionic strength solutions than high. Finally, alamethicin conductance parameters vary systematically with changes in membrane thickness. We show how these results and others in the literature can be explained by a fairly detailed structural model. The model can be easily generalized to a form more suited to high molecular weight single-peptide-chain proteins.