Previous studies have suggested that heated fat that contains oxidized fatty acids in the diet might contribute to the presence of oxidized components in circulating lipoproteins. On the other hand, studies in our laboratory showed that cultured cells such as smooth muscle cells take up oxidized fatty acids poorly. Because intestinal cells are morphologically quite distinct, we studied the uptake of oxidized linoleic acid by Caco-2 and smooth muscle cells (control). When 16-day-old Caco-2 cells were incubated with oxidized linoleic acid (ox-linoleic acid), its uptake was comparable to that of unoxidized linoleic acid (unox-linoleic acid) or that of oleic acid (40;-58, 70, and 55%, respectively). In contrast, the uptake of ox-linoleate by smooth muscle cells was about 3%. To determine whether the brush border structure of Caco-2 cells was responsible for increased uptake of oxidized fatty acids, we compared uptake in 4- and 16-day-old cells. The uptake of unox-linoleate and oleic acid (18:1) was comparable for the 4- and 16-day cells. In addition, saturation and competition experiments showed that the uptake of ox-linoleate by Caco-2 cells is not saturable even at 150 microm and that this uptake is diluted in the presence of unox-linoleate. In esterification experiments utilizing rat intestinal microsomes, we show that both ox- and unox-linoleate are esterified equally well. In summary, dietary oxidized fatty acids can be absorbed by the intestine and incorporated into lipoproteins and could potentially impose an oxidative stress and exacerbate atherogenesis.