It is hypothesized that abnormal interaction between sickle hemoglobin (HbS) and erythrocyte membrane lipid might promote deposition of denatured hemoglobin (hemichrome) on the membrane. We compared the interaction of HbS and normal HbA with large unilamellar phosphatidylserine (PS) liposomes under low salt/pH conditions. Admixture of oxyHb and dioleoyl-PS resulted in loss of absorbance at 412 nm, the apparent first order rate constant for which was .25 +/- 0.02 hour-1 for HbA and .85 +/- 0.18 hour-1 for HbS. This was ascribable largely to formation of metHb and hemichromes and was accompanied by some actual transfer of heme from hemoglobin to lipid phase. By comparison, admixture of oxyHb with liposomes made from bovine brain PS having unsaturated acyl chains promoted even faster absorbance loss if the starting liposomal material contained detectable peroxidation by-product. In such cases, actual heme destruction developed with accompanying liberation of free iron and promotion of lipidperoxidation. Fluorescence quenching experiments indicate that hemoglobin/lipid interaction is characterized by very rapid initial electrostatic interaction, followed by development of irreversible changes. Similar changes still occur under conditions of physiologic salt/pH, but they develop much more slowly. The 3.4-fold faster oxidation of HbS versus HbA on lipid observed here represents an additional augmentation of the disparity in oxidation rates for hemoglobins in solution (1.7-fold faster for HbS than for HbA) observed previously. The accelerated promotion of Hb denaturation resulting from lipid contact may help explain deposits of hemichrome on sickle red blood cell membranes, particularly because these cells are in double jeopardy by virtue of having both the mutant HbS and abnormal amounts of peroxidized membrane lipid.