Plant lignans occur in many foods, with flaxseed presently recognized as the richest source. Some plant lignans can be converted by intestinal microbiota to the mammalian lignans, enterodiol and enterolactone, which may have protective effects against hormone-related diseases such as breast cancer. This study determined whether plant lignans in sesame seed, particularly sesamin, could be metabolized to the mammalian lignans. The total plant lignan concentration in sesame seed (2180 micromol/100 g) was higher than that in flaxseed (820 micromol/100 g). In vitro fermentation with human fecal inoculum showed conversion of sesamin to the mammalian lignans, although at a lower rate (1.1%) compared with that of secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (57.2%). However, when fed to female Sprague-Dawley rats for 10 d, sesamin (15 mg/kg body weight) and a 10% sesame seed diet resulted in greater (P < 0.05) urinary mammalian lignan excretion (3.2 and 11.2 micromol/d, respectively), than the control (< 0.05 micromol/d). We conclude that sesame seed is a rich source of mammalian lignan precursors and sesamin is one of them. From intermediate metabolites of sesamin identified in rat urine by GC-MS, a tentative metabolic pathway of sesamin to mammalian lignans is suggested.