The lipid cofactor requirement of Escherichia coli sn-1,2-diacylglycerol kinase was studied using a beta-octylglucoside mixed micellar assay (Walsh, J. P., and Bell, R. M. (1986) J. Biol. Chem. 261, 6239-6247). The enzyme was shown to have an absolute requirement for a lipid activator. sn-1,2-Dioleoylglycerol was both an activator and a substrate for the enzyme, 1,3-dioleoylglycerol was an activator but not a substrate, and sn-1,2-dioctanoylglycerol was a substrate but not an activator. Activation was observed with a large number of phospholipids, sulfolipids, neutral lipids, and detergents. Lipids with longer alkyl/acyl chains stimulated activity to a greater extent and at lower concentrations than their shorter chain homologs. Anionic lipids were the best activators, and neutral lipids were somewhat less effective. Cationic lipids were poor activators. Lipid activation was cooperative in all cases, with Hill coefficients ranging from 2.9 to 4.7. Lipid activators stabilized the enzyme against inactivation induced by diacylglycerols. The effectiveness of several lipids in stabilizing the enzyme correlated with their effectiveness as kinetic activators, suggesting a common mechanism. Kinetic analyses also suggested that a lipid cofactor-induced conformational change occurs as a part of the activation process. beta-Octylglucoside was shown not to function as a lipid cofactor for diacylglycerol kinase. The requirement for detergent in the assay was related, instead, to the need to disperse and deliver water-insoluble substrates and cofactors to the enzyme. beta-Octylglucoside also provided an inert matrix to which lipid substrates and cofactors could be added, enabling study of their concentration dependencies.