Some mixtures of two cationic lipids including phospholipid compounds (O-ethylphosphatidylcholines) as well as common, commercially available cationic lipids, such as dimethylammonium bromides and trimethylammonium propanes, deliver therapeutic DNA considerably more efficiently than do the separate molecules. In an effort to rationalize this widespread "mixture synergism", we examined the phase behavior of the cationic lipid mixtures and constructed their binary phase diagrams. Among a group of more than 50 formulations, the compositions with maximum delivery activity resided unambiguously in the solid-liquid crystalline two-phase region at physiological temperature. Thus, the transfection efficacy of formulations exhibiting solid-liquid crystalline phase coexistence is more than 5 times higher than that of formulations in the gel (solid) phase and over twice that of liquid crystalline formulations; phase coexistence occurring at physiological temperature thus appears to contribute significantly to mixture synergism. This relationship between delivery activity and physical property can be rationalized on the basis of the known consequences of lipid-phase transitions, namely, the accumulation of defects and increased disorder at solid-liquid crystalline phase boundaries. Packing defects at the borders of coexisting solid and liquid crystalline domains, as well as large local density fluctuations, could be responsible for the enhanced fusogenicity of mixtures. This study leads to the important conclusion that manipulating the composition of the lipid carriers so that their phase transition takes place at physiological temperature can enhance their delivery efficacy.