Capillary gas chromatographic and gas chromatographic--mass spectrometric methods were employed for profiling total fatty acid content of human erythrocyte membranes. The protocol was designed to efficiently separate, identify, and accurately quantify the fatty acid composition in human erythrocyte membranes. Washed erythrocyte "ghosts" were saponified in aqueous methanolic sodium hydroxide solution and methylated with boron trichloride and acid catalysis. Extracted total fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) were analyzed using a highly polar cyanopropylsiloxane SP 2560 fused-silica capillary column. Total run time was 55 min, and 45 FAMEs were tentatively identified by relative retention times compared to those of known FAMEs. Confirmation of identities by mass spectral structure elucidation revealed saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated, and branched-chain FAMEs. The presence of four fatty aldehydes was also confirmed as dimethyl acetal derivatives. Identification of cis/trans isomers was based on relative retention times and characteristic profile of the cis/trans FAME standard. Quantification of FAMEs for normal subjects showed some variation in relative amounts, consistent with expectations based on literature reports on total or phospholipid FAMEs from human erythrocytes. Separation of individual components of fatty acid families (n-3), (n-6), and (n-9) is demonstrated. Losses in relative amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids upon storing samples were also detectable by this rapid method.