The structure and thermotropic phase behaviour of a fully hydrated binary mixture of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine and a branched-chain phosphatidylcholine, 1, 2-di(4-dodecyl-palmitoyl)-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, were examined using differential scanning calorimetry, synchrotron X-ray diffraction and freeze-fracture electron microscopy. The branched-chain lipid forms a nonlamellar phase when dispersed alone in aqueous medium. Mixed aqueous dispersions of the two phospholipids containing less than 33 mol% of the branched-chain lipid form lamellar phases over the whole temperature range were studied (4 degrees C to 60 degrees C). When present in proportions greater than 33 mol% it induces a hexagonal phase in mixed aqueous dispersions with dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine at temperatures above the fluid phase transition. At temperatures below 35 degrees C a hexagonal phase coexists with a gel bilayer phase. The lamellar<-->nonlamellar transition can be explained satisfactorily on the basis of the shape of the molecule expressed in terms of headgroup and chain cross-sectional areas. At temperatures below 35 degrees C macroscopic phase separation of two gel phases takes place. Freeze-fracture electron microscopy revealed that one gel phase consists of bilayers with a highly regular, periodic superstructure (macro-ripples) whereas the other phase forms flat, planar bilayers. The macro-ripple phase appears to represent a relaxation structure required to adapt to the packing constraints imposed by the incorporation of the branched-chain lipid into the dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine host bilayer. The data suggest that structural changes that take place on cooling the mixed dispersion below the lamellar<-->nonlamellar phase transition temperature cannot be adequately described using the molecular form concept. Instead it is necessary to take into account the detailed molecular form of the guest lipid as well as its physical properties.