Genetic disorders of cholesterol biosynthesis result in accumulation of cholesterol precursors and cause severe disease. We examined whether cholesterol precursors alter the stability and properties of ordered lipid domains (rafts). Tempo quenching of a raft-binding fluorophore was used to measure raft stability in vesicles containing sterol, dioleoylphosphatidylcholine, and one of the following ordered domain-forming lipids/lipid mixtures: dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC), sphingomyelin (SM), a SM/cerebroside mixture or a SM/ceramide (cer) mixture. Relative to cholesterol, early cholesterol precursors containing an 8-9 double bond (lanosterol, dihydrolanosterol, zymosterol, and zymostenol) only weakly stabilized raft formation by SM or DPPC. Desmosterol, a late precursor containing the same 5-6 double bond as cholesterol, but with an additional 24-25 double bond, also stabilized domain formation weakly. In contrast, two late precursors containing 7-8 double bonds (lathosterol and 7-dehydrocholesterol) were better raft stabilizers than cholesterol. For vesicles containing SM/cerebroside and SM/cer mixtures the effect of precursor upon raft stability was small, although the relative effects of different precursors were the same. Using both detergent resistance and a novel assay involving fluorescence quenching induced by certain sterols we found cholesterol precursors were displaced from cer-rich rafts, and could displace cer from rafts. Precursor displacement by cer was inversely correlated to precursor raft-stabilizing abilities, whereas precursor displacement of cer was greatest for the most highly raft-stabilizing precursors. These observations support the hypothesis that sterols and cer compete for raft-association (Megha, and London, E. (2004) J. Biol. Chem. 279, 9997-10004). The results of this study have important implications for how precursors might alter raft structure and function in cells, and for the Bloch hypothesis, which postulates that sterol properties are gradually optimized for function along the biosynthetic pathway.