The simple spectroscopic measurement of diene conjugation has long been an established but somewhat problematic marker of free-radical activity in biological systems. The main diene-conjugated compounds in human tissues and tissue fluids have now been identified as esters of octadeca-9,11-dienoic acid (18:2(9,11)), a non-peroxide isomer of linoleic acid (18:2(9,12)); and a range of high-performance liquid chromatographic methods has been developed for their detection and measurement. Significant abnormalities of phospholipid-esterified 18:2(9,11) have been found in the serum of chronic alcoholics and in paraquat poisoning and of non-esterified 18:2(9,11) in lipolytic states. The phospholipid-esterified 18:2(9,11) is increased in the bile of patients with pancreatic disease. In exfoliated cells from the cervix uteri an abnormal molar ratio between phospholipid-esterified 18:2(9,11) and 18:2(9,12) may prove to be the most sensitive biochemical marker of precancerous change.