Inbred strains of mice differ in susceptibility to atherogenesis when challenged with a high fat, high cholesterol diet containing 0.5% cholic acid. Studies of recombinant inbred (RI) strains derived from the susceptible strain C57BL/6J (B6) and the resistant strains C3H/HeJ (C3H) and BALB/cJ have revealed an association between fatty streak lesion size and a decrease in high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels on the diet. To better understand the genetic factors contributing to HDL metabolism and atherogenesis in response to the diet, we studied mice derived from an intercross between B6 and C3H using a complete linkage map approach. A total of 185 female progeny were typed for 134 genetic markers spanning the mouse genome, resulting in an average interval of about 10 cM between markers. A locus on distal chromosome 1 containing the apolipoprotein AII gene was linked to HDL-cholesterol levels on both the chow and the atherogenic diets, but this locus did not contribute to the decrease in HDL-cholesterol in response to the diet. At least three distinct genetic loci, on chromosomes 3, 5, and 11, exhibited evidence of linkage to a decrease in HDL-cholesterol after a dietary challenge. Since a bile acid (cholic acid) is required for the diet induced changes in HDL levels and for atherogenesis in these strains, we examined cholesterol-7-alpha hydroxylase (C7AH) expression. Whereas B6 mice exhibited a large decrease in C7AH mRNA levels in response to the diet, C3H showed an increase. Among the intercross mice, multiple loci contributed to the regulation of C7AH mRNA levels in response to the diet, the most notable of which coincided with the loci on chromosomes 3, 5, and 11 controlling HDL levels in response to the diet. None of these loci were linked to the C7AH structural gene which we mapped to proximal chromosome 4. These studies reveal coordinate regulation of C7AH expression and HDL levels, and they indicate that the genetic factors controlling HDL levels are more complex than previously suggested by studies of RI strains. Furthermore, we observed that two of the loci for C7AH expression contributed to differences in gallstone formation between these strains.