Cyclosporin A is a cyclic peptide believed to exist as multiple conformers in aqueous solution. Two major conformations, distinguished by a single cis-trans isomerization and the presence of four either intramolecular or intermolecular hydrogen bonds, have been confirmed depending on whether CsA is characterized in organic solvents or bound in aqueous complex with cyclophilin. The relationship between CsA conformation and its ability to penetrate biological membranes is currently unknown. Using Caco-2 cell monolayers, we documented a remarkable increase (more than 2 orders of magnitude) in the membrane permeation of the peptide as temperature was increased from 5 to 37 C. The solubility of CsA was 72 M at 5 C, but decreased by more than an order of magnitude at 37 C. Moreover, CsA partitioned into non-hydrogen bond donating solvents linearly as a function of increasing temperature, suggestive of a significant conformational change. However, while NMR spectra of CsA confirmed the previously predicted presence of multiple conformers in aqueous solution, the equilibrium between the two major species was not affected by changes in temperature. These NMR data indicated that the observed temperature-dependent changes in the membrane permeability of CsA do not originate from changes in the peptide backbone conformation. Sedimentation equilibrium analysis revealed that CsA behaves in a highly nonideal manner over the temperature range tested. We interpret this behavior as a change in the hydration state with a smaller (or weaker) hydration shell surrounding the peptide at higher temperatures. Such a change would result in lower peptide desolvation energy, thereby promoting partitioning into cellular membranes. We contend that changes in membrane penetration result from alterations in the hydration state of CsA and are not related to the interconversion of the defined conformations.