Under anaerobic conditions, yeast growth normally requires oxygen in order to favour the synthesis of sterols and unsaturated fatty acids. However, in such conditions, superfluous oxygen consumption by yeast cells is observed. The superfluous oxygen consumed by the yeast cells appears to be not related to classical respiration, but mainly to the operation of several alternative oxygen consumption pathways. In this study, the potential relationship between this superfluous oxygen consumption and the yeast sterol synthesis pathway was investigated during enological fermentation. Additions of small (7 mg l(-1)) and excess (37 mg l(-1)) amounts of oxygen at the end of cell growth phase were used as a method of comparing oxygen consumption by normal synthetic pathways with that by alternative respiration pathways. The superfluous oxygen consumption by yeast cells during fermentation seemed not to alter and strongly favoured fermentation kinetics and cell biomass formation. However, a marked decrease of the orderliness of the membrane phospholipids is observed, which is not related to the drop of cell viability. After oxygen additions, squalene contents of the cells decreased, while the relative proportions of ergosterol or its precursors in the total sterol fraction did not correlatively increase. It was further found that an oxygen-dependent sterol degradation occurred when oxygen was added in excess amounts with respect to the cellular requirements for sterol synthesis. At present, this modification of the sterol contents of yeast membranes has not been related to any physiological parameters.