The channel-forming protein aerolysin is secreted as a protoxin which can be activated by proteolytic removal of a C-terminal peptide. The activation and subsequent oligomerization of aerolysin were studied using a variety of spectroscopic techniques. Mass spectrometric determination of the molecular weights of proaerolysin and aerolysin permitted identification of the sites at which the protoxin is processed by trypsin and chymotrypsin. The results of far- and near-UV circular dichroism measurements indicated that processing with trypsin does not lead to major changes in secondary or tertiary structure of the protein. An increase in tryptophan fluorescence intensity and a small red shift in the maximum emission wavelength of tryptophans could be observed, suggesting that there is a change in the environment of some of the tryptophans. There was also a dramatic increase in the binding of the hydrophobic fluorescent probe 1-anilino-8-naphthalenesulfonate during activation, leading us to conclude that a hydrophobic region in the protein is exposed by trypsin treatment. Using measurements of light scattering, various parameters influencing oligomerisation of trypsin-activated aerolysin were determined. Oligomerization rates were found to increase with the concentration of aerolysin, whereas they decreased with increasing ionic strength.