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A small amino acid sequence (LWYIK) inside the HIV-1 gp41 ectodomain membrane proximal region (MPR) is commonly referred to as a cholesterol-binding domain. To further study this unique and peculiar property we have used fluorescence spectroscopy techniques to unravel the membrane interaction properties of three MPR-derived synthetic peptides: the membrane proximal region peptide-complete (MPRP-C) which corresponds to the complete MPR; the membrane proximal region peptide-short (MPRP-S), which corresponds to the last five MPR amino acid residues (the putative cholesterol-binding domain) and the membrane proximal region peptide-intermediate (MPRP-I), which corresponds to the MPRP-C peptide without the MPRP-S sequence. MPRP-C and MPRP-I membrane interaction is largely independent of the membrane phase. Membrane interaction of MPRP-S occurs for fluid phase membranes but not in gel phase membranes or cholesterol-containing bilayers. The gp41 ectodomain MPR may have a very specific function in viral fusion through the concerted and combined action of cholesterol-binding and non-cholesterol-binding domains (i.e. domains corresponding to MPRP-S and MPRP-I, respectively).