Circulating blood cell lipid composition may become increasingly important to provide new insights into cellular lipid abnormalities in diseases. Here we compared lipid species in monocytes, lymphocytes, granulocytes, platelets and red blood cells (RBC) of healthy volunteers using electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry and detected striking differences among the examined blood cells. The different cell types were characterized by unique lipid class and lipid species pattern. The predominant lipid classes were phosphatidylcholine (PC) and free cholesterol (FC) with cell type specific PC/FC ratios as markers of membrane fluidity which was 1.9 in monocytes, 1.3 in lymphocytes, 1.1 in granulocytes, 0.8 in platelets and 0.3 in RBC, respectively. Beside a three-fold elevated ceramide level of 2.6 mol%, granulocytes revealed the highest percentage of phosphatidylethanolamine-based plasmalogens and a decreased fraction of highly polyunsaturated (> or =3 double bonds) species compared to other cell types. Furthermore RBC showed a remarkable shift of glycerophospholipid chain length and platelets a nearly 4-fold increase of the cholesterol ester (CE) 18:2 (linoleic acid) fraction (55 mol% of total CE). In conclusion, the current study is a detailed comparison of lipid species in circulating blood cells of healthy human donors. This work could be a reference for studies in different patient cohorts directed towards discovery of novel lipid biomarkers in circulating blood cells.