Using CD spectroscopy we have investigated the effect of Cu2+ on the secondary structure of synthetic peptides Octa4 and Hexa4 corresponding to tetra-repeats of the octapeptide of mammalian PrP and the hexapeptide of chicken PrP. In addition, fluorescence spectroscopy was used to estimate the dissociation constants (Kd), of Cu2+ binding by both peptides. Both peptides exhibited unusual CD spectra, complicated by the high proportion of aromatic residues, revealing little secondary structure in aqueous solution. Addition of Cu2+ to Hexa4 induced an increase in random coil to resemble Octa4. The fluorescence of both peptides was quenched by Cu2+ and this was used to calculate Kd's of 6.7 microM for Octa4 and 4.5 microM for Hexa4. Other divalent cations showed lesser effects on the fluorescence of the peptides.