To assess the validity of two techniques used to measure human cholesterol synthesis, the rate of uptake of deuterium (D) into plasma free cholesterol (FC), and plasma cholesterol precursor (squalene, lanosterol, desmosterol and lathosterol) levels were compared in 14 women [65-71 yr with low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) > or = 3.36 mmol x L(-1)]. Subjects consumed each of six diets for 5-wk periods according to a randomized crossover design. The experimental diets included a baseline diet (39% energy as fat, 164 mg chol x 4.2 MJ(-1)) and five reduced-fat diets (30% of energy as fat), where two-thirds of the fat was either soybean oil; squeeze, tub or stick margarines; or butter. Fractional and absolute synthesis rates (FSR and ASR) of FC were determined using the deuterium incorporation (DI) method, while cholesterol precursor levels were measured using gas-liquid chromatography. Data were pooled across diets for each variable and correlation coefficients were calculated to determine if associations were present. There was good agreement among levels of the various cholesterol precursors. In addition, FSR in pools/d (p x d(-1)) and ASR in grams/d (g x d(-1)) were strongly associated with lathosterol (r= 0.72 and 0.71, P= 0.0001), desmosterol (r= 0.75 and 0.75, P = 0.0001), lanosterol (r = 0.67 and 0.67), and squalene (r = 0.69 and 0.68) when levels of the precursors were expressed as micromol x mmol(-1) C. Significant but lower correlations were observed between the D uptake and plasma cholesterol precursor levels when the latter were expressed in absolute amounts (micromol x L(-1)). The wide range of fatty acid profiles of the experimental diets did not influence the degree of association between methods. In conclusion, the DI method and levels of some cholesterol precursors correspond as methods for shortterm measurement of cholesterol synthesis.