A study was made of the binding of 7-ethoxy-, 7-n-propoxy- and 7-n-pentoxy-coumarin to cytochrome P-450(2) reconstituted into large unilamellar liposomes composed of a mixture of egg L-alpha-phosphatidylcholine, egg phosphatidylethanolamine and dipalmitoyl phosphatidic acid (2:1:0.06, by weight). The apparent spectral dissociation constants K(s)app. increased linearly with increasing proteoliposomal concentration. When both cytochrome P-450(2) and NADPH:cytochrome P-450 reductase were reconstituted into liposomes, the apparent Michaelis constants K(m)app. for O-dealkylation of 7-methoxy-, 7-ethoxy- and 7-n-propoxy-coumarin showed a similar dependence on the proteoliposomal concentration. The results were in accordance with models for kinetic or equilibrium processes in biphasic systems containing membrane-bound catalytic or acceptor sites, in which a linear solute partition in the bilayer membrane is postulated. The methyl, ethyl and n-propyl ether were readily dealkylated. However, the O-dealkylation rate of 7-n-butoxycoumarin was low and became very small for longer alkyl ethers. Both the effective dissociation constants and effective Michaelis constants decreased with elongation of the alkyl side chain of the coumarins. From plots of the apparent dissociation constants and apparent Michaelis constants against the lipid volume fraction of the proteoliposomes, the membrane partition coefficients for several homologues were calculated. When protein-free liposomes were added to 7-n-alkoxycoumarin solutions, the fluorescence intensity of the coumarins decreased and eventually became negligible in the presence of an excess of liposomal material. On the assumption that the overall fluorescence can be ascribed exclusively to the fraction of 7-n-alkoxycoumarin molecules present in the aqueous phase, partition coefficients for liposomal accumulation of the test compounds could be determined directly. For several coumarin ethers, comparable values were derived for the membrane partition coefficients from binding, kinetic and fluorescence intensity measurements. The change in free energy per methylene group of the 7-n-alkoxycoumarins for partitioning between n-octanol and buffer was significantly different from the value for liposome partitioning.