The ligand-binding domain (LBD) of the human retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor (RORalpha-LBD), expressed in Sf9 cells, was purified and analyzed by electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (ESI-MS). ESI-MS operated under native conditions showed the presence of a fortuitous ligand with molecular weight 386. Further analysis by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) allowed the identification of the ligands bound to the LBD. Cholesterol (77%) and 7-dehydrocholesterol (provitamin D(3); 18%) were shown to be the major ligands. A monohydroxylated cholesterol derivative was identified as a minor ligand. In addition, ligand exchange experiments monitored by ESI-MS showed that cholesterol sulfate has a higher affinity for RORalpha-LBD than cholesterol and 25-hydroxycholesterol. Binding of coactivator (CoA) peptide GRIP1P was shown to occur in a stoichiometric manner. Therefore, monitoring of binding of CoAs by mass spectrometry could be used for classification of the ligands as agonist or antagonist molecules.