The membrane proximal region (MPR) of HIV-1 gp41 is a desirable target for development of a vaccine that elicits neutralizing antibodies since the patient-derived monoclonal antibodies, 2F5 and 4E10, bind to the MPR and neutralize primary HIV isolates. The 2F5 and 4E10 antibodies cross-react with lipids and structural studies suggest that MPR immunogens may be presented in a membrane environment. We hypothesized that covalent attachment of lipid anchors would enhance the humoral immune response to MPR-derived peptides presented in liposomal bilayers. In a comparison of eight lipids conjugated to an extended 2F5 epitope peptide, a sterol, cholesterol hemisuccinate (CHEMS), was found to promote the strongest anti-peptide IgG titers (6.4 x 10(4)) in sera of BALB/C mice. Two lipid anchors, palmitic acid and phosphatidylcholine, failed to elicit a detectable serum anti-peptide IgG response. Association with the liposomal vehicle contributed to the ability of a lipopeptide to elicit anti-peptide antibodies, but no other single factor, such as position of the lipid anchor, peptide helical content, lipopeptide partition coefficient, or presence of phosphate on the anchor clearly determined lipopeptide potency. Conjugation to CHEMS also rendered a 4E10 epitope peptide immunogenic (5.6 x 10(2) IgG titer in serum). Finally, attachment of CHEMS to a peptide spanning both the 2F5 and 4E10 epitopes elicited serum IgG antibodies that bound to each of the individual epitopes as well as to recombinant gp140. Further research into the mechanism of how structure influences the immune response to the MPR may lead to immunogens that could be useful in prime-boost regimens for focusing the immune response in an HIV vaccine.