The relationship between serum levels of conjugates of cholic acid measured by radioimmunoassay, bile acid absorption, and hepatic clearance was studied in order to define the determinants of fasting and postprandial serum bile acids in healthy man. Acute or chronic interruption of the enterohepatic circulation caused a significant decrease in basal serum levels of cholyl conjugates, while liquid or solid meals caused a marked and reproducible increase in serum cholyl conjugates. A temporal correlation was demonstrated postprandially or after intravenous cholecystokinin between intestinal transit of bile acids and simultaneous changes in levels of serum cholyl conjugates. Finally, the plasma disappearance of intravenously injected cholylglycine was shown to be unaffected by serum levels of endogenous cholyl conjugates. These data are consistent with the interpretation that, in the presence of normal hepatic function, the major determinant of serum bile acids is their rate of intestinal absorption.