Isotherms have been obtained near 37 degrees C for a series of repetitive compressions and expansions of monolayers that contain major components of lung surfactant. The minimum surface tension or maximum surface pressure which could be achieved under conditions of dynamic compression, and the rate of return of lipid from excluded phase to the monolayers were measured. Monolayers of pure 1,2-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DPPC), or of DPPC plus 10 or 30 mol% of the calcium salt of 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phospho-rac-glycerol (POPG) (POPG-Ca) achieved very high surface pressures or low surface tensions (near 0 mN m-1), but they showed no return of material from the collapse phases under the test conditions. Monolayers of POPG-Ca alone collapsed at relatively low surface pressures (high surface tensions), but showed good return of material from the collapse phase into the monolayer. Monolayers containing more complex mixtures of lipids (DPPC, phosphatidylglycerol (PG), unsaturated phosphatidylcholine (PC), cholesterol (chol] in ratios similar to those found in surfactant achieved minimum surface tensions intermediate between those of monolayers with less complex compositions. These more complex mixtures showed a better rate of return of lipids from the collapse phases to the monolayer than did simple DPPC-POPG mixtures. 31P-NMR and differential scanning calorimetric investigations of the mixture DPPC/1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine(POPC)/POP G/DPPG/chol (10:4:2:1:3) showed that in the bulk phase at 37 degrees C, it was in bilayers in the liquid-crystalline state.