Nebulin, a giant protein (molecular mass 800 kDa) specific for the skeletal muscle of vertebrates, has been suggested to be involved in the length regulation of the thin filament as a 'molecular ruler'. Despite its size, nebulin appears to be composed mainly of small repeats of approximately 35 amino acids. We have characterized in this study the conformational and functional properties of single repeats. Complete repeats were found to bind to F-actin while a truncated one did not. One repeat is therefore the smallest unit for nebulin--actin interaction. Circular dichroism and nuclear magnetic resonance spectra measured for the peptides in water indicated a transient helical conformation. The folded region is located for them all around the conserved sequence SDxxYK. The helical conformation is strongly stabilized by anionic detergents and trifluoroethanol while uncharged or positively charged detergents have no effect. Since the surface of the actin filament is known to contain clusters of negative charges, anionic detergents may mimic the effect of an actin environment. 3D structures were calculated for three representative peptides in SDS. In vivo, the nebulin helices should form a complex with the actin filament. Based on the assumed importance of charge interactions between nebulin and actin, we propose a model for the structure of the F-actin-nebulin complex in vivo. According to that, two nebulin molecules occupy symmetrical positions along the central cleft of the actin filament bridging the two strands of the actin two-start helix. The consistency of this model with experimental data is discussed.