The retinoic acid-related orphan receptor alpha (RORalpha) is an orphan member of the subfamily 1 of nuclear hormone receptors. No X-ray structure of RORalpha has been described so far, and no ligand has been identified. We describe the first crystal structure of the ligand binding domain (LBD) of RORalpha, at 1.63 A resolution. This structure revealed a ligand present in the ligand binding pocket (LBP), which was identified by X-ray crystallography as cholest-5-en-3beta-ol (cholesterol). Moreover, RORalpha transcriptional activity could be modulated by changes in intracellular cholesterol level or mutation of residues involved in cholesterol binding. These findings suggest that RORalpha could play a key role in the regulation of cholesterol homeostasis and thus represents an important drug target in cholesterol-related diseases.