Plasma transport of free fatty acids (FFA) and triglyceride fatty acids (TGFA) was studied in seven subjects with normal lipid metabolism, one case of total lipodystrophy, and one case of familial hyperlipemia (Type V). Studies were carried out after intravenous injection of radioactive FFA, of lipoproteins previously labeled in vitro in the triglyceride moiety, or both. Computer techniques were used to evaluate a series of multicompartmental models, and a general model is proposed that yields optimum fitting of experimental data for both FFA and TGFA. The results show that as much as 20-30% of FFA leaving the plasma compartment in normal subjects is transported to an exchanging extravascular pool and quickly reenters the plasma pool as FFA. The rate of irreversible delivery of FFA from plasma to tissues averaged 358 muEq/min in normals. The lipodystrophy patient, despite the virtual absence of adipose tissue (confirmed at autopsy), had a plasma FFA concentration and a total FFA transport, both more than twice normal. Total TGFA transport ranged from 25 to 81 muEq/min in four normal controls. The rate constant for TGFA turnover in the patient with Type V hyperlipemia was so small that total transport could not be quantified from the data available; the TGFA half-life was over 500 min. In two normal subjects given injections of autologous lipoproteins labeled in vitro with triolein-(14)C and simultaneously given oleic acid-(3)H, it was shown that the time course for the disappearance of the TGFA in the in vitro labeled samples conformed almost exactly to that of the physiologically labeled lipoprotein TGFA synthesized from injected FFA (as evidenced by the simultaneous fitting of both sets of data using the same multicompartmental model and the same rate constants). Radioactivity appeared in the plasma FFA fraction at a significant rate after injection of plasma labeled in vitro with TGFA. It was estimated that as much as 50% of the total TGFA transported underwent rapid and rather direct conversion to FFA in the two normal subjects studied this way. The kinetic data suggest that such conversion of TGFA to FFA was not preceded by any extensive dilution, such as would result from complete mixing with tissue triglyceride stores.