Although its function is unknown, alpha-synuclein is widely distributed in neural tissue and is the major component in the pathological aggregates found in patients with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Down's syndrome, and multiple system atrophy. In this report, we have quantified the binding alpha-synucleins to lipid membranes. In contrast to previous studies, we find, using real time equilibrium fluorescence methods, that alpha-synuclein binds strongly to large, unilamellar vesicles with either anionic or zwitterionic headgroups. Membrane binding is also strong for beta-synuclein, phosphorylated alpha-synuclein, and a synuclein mutant that is associated with familial Parkinson's disease. In solution at less than 400 nM, synuclein has a tendency to undergo concentration-dependent oligomerization as determined by changes in intrinsic fluorescence and fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Above this concentration, the protein begins to aggregate into structures visible by light scattering. Although membrane binding does not affect the secondary structure of alpha-synuclein, it greatly inhibits the ability of this protein to self-associate. Taken together, our results indicate that pathological conditions may be associated with a disruption in synuclein-membrane interactions.