Lipolytic activity was studied in aspirates from the esophageal pouch and from the stomach of eight infants with congenital esophageal atresia. Lipolytic activity, tested with doubly labeled ([3H]glyceryl, [14C]fatty acid) long-chain triglyceride was present in esophageal and gastric aspirates. The activity in esophageal aspirates was in the range of 2.7-130 nmol/min/ml aspirate and that in gastric aspirates was in the range of 2.9-40.4 nmol/min/ml aspirate. The reaction products of lipolytic activity in esophageal and gastric aspirates were a mixture of mono- and diglycerides, glycerol, and free fatty acids. The lipolytic activity at the two sites--esophagus and stomach--varied with respect to pH optimum (5.0-7.6 and 6.0-6.5, respectively) and reaction products (glycerol 41.6 +/- 20% and 7.3 +/- 4.6%, respectively). These findings confirm the earlier observations that digestion of dietary fat is initiated in the stomach and suggest that the lipolytic activity present in gastric contents originates concomitantly from the oral-esophageal area as well as from the stomach. These studies do not exclude the possibility that the lipolytic activity in the stomach of infants with esophageal atresia could originate in regurgitated intestinal contents.