Choline is required to make essential membrane phospholipids. It is a precursor for the biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and also is an important source of labile methyl groups. Mammals fed a choline-deficient diet develop liver dysfunction; however, choline is not considered an essential nutrient in humans. Healthy male volunteers were hospitalized and fed a semisynthetic diet devoid of choline supplemented with 500 mg/day choline for 1 wk. Subjects were randomly divided into two groups, one that continued to receive choline (control), and the other that received no choline (deficient) for three additional wk. During the 5th wk of the study all subjects received choline. The semisynthetic diet contained adequate, but no excess, methionine. In the choline-deficient group, plasma choline and phosphatidylcholine concentrations decreased an average of 30% during the 3-wk period when a choline-deficient diet was ingested; plasma and erthrocyte phosphatidylcholine decreased 15%; no such changes occurred in the control group. In the choline-deficient group, serum alanine aminotransferase activity increased steadily from a mean of 0.42 mukat/liter to a mean of 0.62 mukat/liter during the 3-wk period when a choline-deficient diet was ingested; no such change occurred in the control group. Other tests of liver and renal function were unchanged in both groups during the study. Serum cholesterol decreased an average of 15% in the deficient group and did not change in the control group. Healthy humans consuming a choline-deficient diet for 3 wk had depleted stores of choline in tissues and developed signs of incipient liver dysfunction. Our observations support the conclusion and choline is an essential nutrient for humans when excess methionine and folate are not available in the diet.