Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne psychrotrophic pathogen that grows at refrigeration temperatures. Previous studies of fatty acid profiles of wild-type and cold-sensitive, branched-chain fatty acid deficient mutants of L. monocytogenes suggest that the fatty acid 12-methyltetradecanoic (anteiso-C(15:0)) plays a critical role in low-temperature growth of L. monocytogenes, presumably by maintaining membrane fluidity. The fluidity of isolated cytoplasmic membranes of wild-type (SLCC53 and 10403S), and a cold-sensitive mutant (cld-1) of L. monocytogenes, grown with and without the supplementation of 2-methylbutyric acid, has been studied using a panel of hydrocarbon-based nitroxides (2N10, 3N10, 4N10, and 5N10) and spectral deconvolution and simulation methods to obtain directly the Lorentzian line widths and hence rotational correlation times (tau(c)) and motional anisotropies of the nitroxides in the fast motional region. tau(c) values over the temperature range of -7 degrees C to 50 degrees C were similar for the membranes of strains SLCC53 and 10403S grown at 10 degrees C and 30 degrees C, and for strain cld-1 grown with 2-methylbutyric acid supplementation (which restores branched-chain fatty acids) at 30 degrees C. However, strain cld-1 exhibited a threefold higher tau(c) when grown without 2-methylbutyric acid supplementation (deficient in branched-chain fatty acids) compared to strains SLCC53, 10403S, and supplemented cld-1. No evidence was seen for a clear lipid phase transition in any sample. We conclude that the fatty acid anteiso-C(15:0) imparts an essential fluidity to the L. monocytogenes membrane that permits growth at refrigeration temperatures.