The plasma concentration of galactose and galactitol was measured in 27 patients with galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT) deficiency galactosemia on a lactose-restricted diet, 17 infants on lactose-free formula, and 21 infants and children on a normal diet, by a newly devised isotope dilution gas chromatograph/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) method. The method was linear in the range of 0.1 to 10 micromol/L for galactose and 1 to 20 micromol/L for galactitol with good reproducibility and a coefficient of variation less than 3%. The mean plasma galactose in 15 patients who were homozygous for the most common Q188R mutation of the GALT gene was 2.72 +/- 0.70 micromol/L (mean +/- SE) with a range of 0.58 to 3.98 in specimens obtained at regular clinic visits. In 12 patients with other GALT mutations, it was 2.45 +/- 0.75 micromol/L. The mean value in nongalactosemic subjects on lactose-free formula was 0.52 +/- 0.08 micromol/L, with a range of 0.12 to 1.25. The range in 21 normal subjects without diet restriction was 0.11 to 6.33 micromol/L, with a mean of 1.48 +/- 0.32. The plasma galactitol level was 11.63 +/- 0.46 and 10.85 +/- 1.38 micromol/L in the 2 galactosemic groups. There was no relationship between plasma galactose and galactitol levels, with variable ratios of the two substances in the galactosemic patients. Galactitol was not detectable in the plasma of normal subjects. The red blood cell galactose-1-phosphate level was also measured in the galactosemic patients, and no relationship between plasma galactose and red blood cell galactose-1-phosphate was found. The galactose-1-phosphate concentration was 28 to 54 times higher than the ambient galactose. The low galactose concentration in the plasma of galactosemics on galactose-restricted diets in relation to the higher plasma galactitol and red blood cell galactose-1-phosphate is a metabolic enigma. The ability to measure plasma galactose accurately presents a new way of characterizing the galactosemic patient and the levels monitored over time may provide insight into the development of long-term complications associated with the disorder.