We investigated the enzyme defects in two inherited disorders of cholesterol biosynthesis: sitosterolaemia and the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. In sitosterolaemic homozygotes, plasma plant sterols (sitosterol and campesterol) concentrations are elevated because of enhanced intestinal absorption and diminished removal. Underlying these changes is very low cholesterol biosynthesis to provide extra sterol for cell growth. Extremely reduced activities of HMG-CoA reductase, the rate-controlling enzyme for cholesterol biosynthesis, caused by deficient HMG-CoA reductase mRNA is responsible and is the suspected inherited abnormality. The Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome is caused by a block in the last reaction in the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway, the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to cholesterol, which is catalysed by 7-dehydrocholesterol delta 7-reductase. As a result, low plasma and tissue cholesterol with high 7-dehydrocholesterol levels are found in homozygotes, who show characteristic phenotypes of mental retardation, facial dysmorphism, and organ and limb congenital anomalies. Similar biochemical findings are produced in rats fed BM 15,766, an inhibitor of 7-dehydrocholesterol delta 7-reductase. Interestingly, feeding cholesterol can suppress abnormal cholesterol biosynthesis and improve symptoms in homozygotes and rats fed BM 15,766.