Human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP), co-secreted with insulin from pancreatic beta cells, misfolds to form amyloid deposits in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Like many amyloidogenic proteins, hIAPP is membrane-active: this may be significant in the pathogenesis of NIDDM. Non-fibrillar hIAPP induces electrical and physical breakdown in planar lipid bilayers, and IAPP inserts spontaneously into lipid monolayers, markedly increasing their surface area and producing Brewster angle microscopy reflectance changes. Congo red inhibits these activities, and they are completely arrested by rifampicin, despite continued amyloid formation. Our results support the idea that non-fibrillar IAPP is membrane-active, and may have implications for therapy and for structural studies of membrane-active amyloid.