We have investigated whether side chain-hydroxylated cholesterol species are important for elimination of cholesterol from the brain. Plasma concentrations of 24-hydroxycholesterol (24-OH-Chol) in the internal jugular vein and the brachial artery in healthy volunteers were consistent with a net flux of this steroid from the brain into the circulation, corresponding to elimination of approximately 4 mg cholesterol during a 24-h period in adults. Results of experiments with rats exposed to 18O2 were also consistent with a flux of 24-OH-Chol from the brain into the circulation. No other oxysterol measured showed a similar behavior as 24-OH-Chol. These results and the finding that the concentration of 24-OH-Chol was 30- to 1500-fold higher in the brain than in any other organ except the adrenals indicate that the major part of 24-OH-Chol present in the circulation originates from the brain. Both the 24-OH-Chol present in the brain and in the circulation were the 24S-stereoisomer. In contrast to other oxysterols, levels of plasma 24-OH-Chol were found to be markedly dependent upon age. The ratio between 24-OH-Chol and cholesterol in plasma was approximately 5 times higher during the first decade of life than during the sixth decade. There was a high correlation between levels of 24-OH-Chol in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid. It is suggested that the flux of 24-OH-Chol from the brain is important for cholesterol homeostasis in this organ.