The role of the plasma lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase reaction in the esterification of the cholesterol of human and baboon plasma high density lipoproteins has been studied. Human plasma was incubated in vitro, and the initial rate of cholesterol esterification in lipoprotein fractions obtained by chromatography on hydroxylapatite was determined. The rate of esterification was greater in the high density lipoprotein fraction than in the low density lipoprotein fraction. High density lipoproteins from human and baboon plasma were filtered through columns of Sephadex G 200, and the relative concentrations in the effluent of key lipids involved in the acyltransferase reaction were determined. The ratio of esterified to unesterified cholesterol varied across the lipoprotein peak obtained from either type of plasma. The relative concentration of lecithin compared to sphingomyelin also varied across the peaks obtained with human high density lipoproteins. When human or baboon plasma was incubated with cholesterol-(14)C and the high density lipoproteins were filtered through Sephadex, the specific activity of the esterified cholesterol varied across the lipoprotein peak. Similar results were obtained when plasma esterified cholesterol was labeled in vivo by the injection of labeled mevalonate into baboons. The data suggest that the acyltransferase reaction is the major source of the esterified cholesterol of the high density lipoproteins.