The effect was studied of the fungal cyclodepsipeptide antibiotics beauvericin and seven distinct enniatins on acyl-CoA: cholesterol acyltransferase (ACAT) activity. In an enzyme assay using rat liver microsomes, all the compounds were found to inhibit ACAT activity. The drug concentration that caused 50% inhibition (IC50 value) of the enzyme activity was determined to be 3.0 microM for beauvericin, indicating that the compound is one of the most potent ACAT inhibitors of microbial origin. Enniatins exhibited much higher IC50 values of 22 to 110 microM. More hydrophobic enniatins showed more potent inhibitory activity. Furthermore, the ACAT inhibitory activity was evaluated as inhibition of cholesteryl ester formation in a cell assay using J774 macrophages. Calculation of the ratio, CD50 value (the drug concentration causing 50% cell damage)/IC50 value of cholesteryl ester formation, indicated that beauvericin shows the highest specificity. These data indicate that beauvericin is one of the most potent and specific ACAT inhibitors of microbial origin.