The study was undertaken to test the inhibitory potential on cholesterogenesis of organosulfur compounds derived from garlic. The primary rat hepatocytes maintained in Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium were treated with [2-14C]acetate as substrate for cholesterol synthesis in the presence or absence of test compounds at 0.05 to 4.0 mmol/L. Eleven water-soluble and six lipid-soluble compounds of garlic were tested. Among water-soluble compounds, S-allyl cysteine (SAC), S-ethyl cysteine (SEC), and S-propyl cysteine (SPC) inhibited [2-14C]acetate incorporation into cholesterol in a concentration-dependent manner, achieving 42 to 55% maximal inhibition. Gamma-glutamyl-S-allyl cysteine, gamma-glutamyl-S-methyl cysteine, and gamma-glutamyl-S-propyl cysteine were less potent, exerting only 16 to 29% maximal inhibitions. Alliin, S-allyl-N-acetyl cysteine, S-allylsulfonyl alanine, and S-methyl cysteine had no effect on cholesterol synthesis. Of the lipid-soluble compounds, diallyl disulfide (DADS), diallyl trisulfide (DATS), and dipropyl disulfide (DPDS) depressed cholesterol synthesis by 10 to 25% at low concentrations (< or =0.5 mmol/L), and abolished the synthesis at high concentrations (> or =1.0 mmol/L). Diallyl sulfide, dipropyl sulfide, and methyl allyl sulfide slightly inhibited [2-14C]acetate incorporation into cholesterol only at high concentrations. The complete depression of cholesterol synthesis by DADS, DATS, and DPDS was associated with cytotoxicity as indicated by marked increase in cellular LDH release. There was no apparent increase in LDH secretion by water-soluble compounds except S-allyl mercaptocysteine, which also abolished cholesterol synthesis. Judging from maximal inhibition and IC50 (concentration required for 50% of maximal inhibition), SAC, SEC, and SPC are equally potent in inhibiting cholesterol synthesis.