Uptake of cholesterol by the intestinal absorptive epithelium can be selectively blocked by specific small molecules, like the sterol glycoside, L-166,143. Furthermore, (3)H-labeled L-166,143 administered orally to hamsters binds specifically to the intestinal mucosa, suggesting the existence of a cholesterol transporter. Using autoradiography, the binding site of (3)H-L-166,143 in the hamster small intestine was localized to the very apical aspect of the absorptive epithelial cells. Label was competed by non-radioactive L-166,143 and two structurally distinct cholesterol absorption inhibitors, suggesting a common site of action for these compounds. L-166,143 blocked uptake of (3)H-cholesterol into enterocytes in vivo, as demonstrated by autoradiography, suggesting that it inhibits a very early step of cholesterol absorption, incorporation into the brush border membrane. This conclusion was confirmed by studies in which intestinal brush borders were isolated from hamsters dosed with (3)H-cholesterol in the presence or absence of L-166,143. Uptake of (3)H-cholesterol into the membranes was substantially inhibited by the compound. In contrast, an inhibitor of acyl CoA:cholesterol acyltransferase, did not affect uptake of (3)H-cholesterol into the brush border membranes. These results strongly support the existence of a specific transporter that facilitates the movement of cholesterol from bile acid micelles into the brush border membranes of enterocytes.