The N-terminal domain of HIV-1 glycoprotein 41,000 (gp41) participates in viral fusion processes. Here, we use physical and computational methodologies to examine the secondary structure of a peptide based on the N terminus (FP; residues 1–23) in aqueous and detergent environments. 12C-Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy indicated greater α-helix for FP in lipid-detergent sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) and aqueous phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) than in only PBS. 12C-FTIR spectra also showed disordered FP conformations in these two environments, along with substantial β-structure for FP alone in PBS. In experiments that map conformations to specific residues, isotope-enhanced FTIR spectroscopy was performed using FP peptides labeled with 13C-carbonyl. 13C-FTIR results on FP in SDS at low peptide loading indicated α-helix (residues 5 to 16) and disordered conformations (residues 1–4). Because earlier 13C-FTIR analysis of FP in lipid bilayers demonstrated α-helix for residues 1–16 at low peptide loading, the FP structure in SDS micelles only approximates that found for FP with membranes. Molecular dynamics simulations of FP in an explicit SDS micelle indicate that the fraying of the first three to four residues may be due to the FP helix moving to one end of the micelle. In PBS alone, however, electron microscopy of FP showed large fibrils, while 13C-FTIR spectra demonstrated antiparallel β-sheet for FP (residues 1–12), analogous to that reported for amyloid peptides. Because FP and amyloid peptides each exhibit plaque formation, α-helix to β-sheet interconversion, and membrane fusion activity, amyloid and N-terminal gp41 peptides may belong to the same superfamily of proteins.