Bilayers containing phosphatidylcholine (PC) and the anionic lipid phosphatidic acid (PA) are particularly effective at stabilizing the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) in a functional conformation that undergoes agonist-induced conformational change. The physical properties of PC membranes containing PA are also substantially altered upon incorporation of the nAChR. To test whether or not the negative charge of PA is responsible for this "bi-directional coupling," the nAChR was reconstituted into membranes composed of PC with varying levels of the net negatively charged lipid phosphatidylserine (PS). In contrast to PA, increasing levels of PS in PC membranes do not stabilize an increasing proportion of nAChRs in a functional resting conformation, nor do they slow nAChR peptide hydrogen exchange kinetics. Incorporation of the nAChR had little effect on the physical properties of the PC/PS membranes, as monitored by the gel-to-liquid crystal phase transition temperatures of the bilayers. These results show that a net negative charge alone is not sufficient to account for the unique interactions that occur between the nAChR and PC/PA membranes. Incorporation of the receptor into PC/PS membranes, however, did lead to an altered head group conformation of PS possibly by recruiting divalent cations to the membrane surface. The results show that the nAChR has complex and unique interactions with both PA and PS. The interactions between the nAChR and PS may be bridged by divalent cations, such as calcium.