We have measured the membrane binding affinities of purified phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipases C-beta 1 and C-beta 2 to membranes of varying lipid composition using fluorescence methods. Our studies show that these proteins bind with affinities of 10(-5)-10(-4) M, with a small dependence on lipid type. Binding was relatively insensitive to the presence of phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipases C-beta s' major physiological substrate, phosphatidylinositiol 4,5-bisphosphate, as well as the presence of Ca2+, which is required for activity. The presence of purified GTP gamma S-activated alpha 11 subunits of heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide binding proteins (G proteins) did not alter the membrane binding affinity of phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipases C-beta 1, even though alpha 11 is a potent activator of this protein. Similarly, the presence of purified beta gamma subunits of G proteins did not alter the membrane association of phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipases C-beta 2 even though these subunits strongly activate this isoform. These results argue against a recruitment model for PLC-beta activation by G proteins, negatively charged lipids, Ca2+, or substrate, and suggest that activation occurs through association of the membrane-bound species.