Effects of high altitude exposure on plasma lipids and lipoprotein cholesterol were studied in 8 mountaineers who spent 3 weeks at the Annapurna IV base camp (4800 m) after a 12 day trek. In spite of the moderate physical exertion at the camp, the loss of body weight was more pronounced during the stay at high altitude than during the trekking period. Compared with baseline values observed at sea level, marked reductions in plasma cholesterol (-27%) and phospholipids (-19%) were found 3 days after arrival at the camp and persisted during the next 17 days. A less marked fall in plasma triglycerides occurred, weakly significant at the end of the stay. Because there were no relevant changes in very low density lipoproteins or in high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol, the low plasma cholesterol levels at the high altitude resulted mainly from the reduction in low density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol: the mean HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio changed from 0.39 at sea level to 0.63 at the end of the stay at 4800 m. Fluctuations in LDL-cholesterol were not concomitant with those in body weight and were independent of the exercise training during the expedition. This study shows moreover that the early drop in LDL-cholesterol was associated with an opposite change in plasma levels of catecholamines and thyroid hormones. Taking into account that such hormonal responses are classically observed at high altitude, the concomitant decrease in LDL-cholesterol might be interpreted as being a relevant adaptative response to hypoxic conditions at high altitude.