Dietary copper deficiency causes hypercholesterolemia and increased hepatic 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl coenzyme A (MHG-CoA) reductase activity and increased hepatic glutathione (GSH) in rats. We hypothesized that inhibition of GSH production by L-buthionine sulfoximine (BSO), a specific GSH synthesis inhibitor, would abolish the cholesterolemia and increased HMG-CoA reductase activity of copper deficiency. In two experiments, two groups of 20 weanling male rats were fed diets providing 0.4 and 5.8 micrograms Cu/g, copper-deficient (Cu-D) and copper-adequate (Cu-A), respectively. At 35 days plasma cholesterol was significantly elevated by 30 to 43% in Cu-D and 10 animals in each of the Cu-D and Cu-A groups were randomly assigned to receive 10 mM BSO solution in place of drinking water and continued on the same diets for another 2 wk. At necropsy Cu-D animals had a significant 52 to 58% increase in plasma cholesterol. BSO administration abolished the cholesterolemia in Cu-D rats, but had no influence on plasma cholesterol of Cu-A rats. Hepatic GSH was increased 39 to 82% in Cu-D rats and BSO abolished this increase. BSO was without effect on cardiac hypertrophy, plasma and liver copper, and hematocrit indices of copper status. Liver microsome HMG-CoA reductase activity was significantly increased 85 to 288% in Cu-D rats and BSO administration abolished this increase in activity in Cu-D rats. The results suggest that copper deficiency cholesterolemia and elevated HMG-CoA reductase activity are a consequence of elevated hepatic GSH, and provide evidence for GSH regulation of cholesterol metabolism in intact animals.