Synthetic peptides representing the conserved ends of the rod domain of desmin are shown to disassemble preformed desmin filaments when added in moderate molar excess. This argues for a similar importance of both ends of the rod for filament stability. Recent structural models of intermediate filaments suggest close proximity of the ends and perhaps even an interaction (N. Geisler, J. Schunemann, and K. Weber, 1992, Eur. J. Biochem. 206, 841-852; P. M. Steinert, L. N. Marekov, R. D. B. Fraser, and D. A. D. Parry, 1993, J. Mol. Biol. 230, 436-452). Since the disassembling activity of the peptides, in addition to their sequences, should be related in some way to their secondary structure, we have investigated the structures of a number of related peptides which all arise from the ends of the rod using electron microscopic and spectroscopic methods. All peptides showed the expected a-helical structure at low concentrations in the presence of trifluoroethanol, as revealed by circular dichroism. At higher concentrations the peptides showed extensive selfaggregation into various types of filaments. The filaments contain the peptides in b-sheet conformation as shown by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy.