To assess the utility of various indicators of biotin status, marginal biotin deficiency was induced experimentally in normal adults. Ten subjects consumed a diet that contained enough avidin to bind seven times more biotin than that in the diet. Blood and 24-h urine samples were collected before the diet began and twice weekly thereafter for 20 d. The urinary excretion and serum concentration of biotin and its two principal inactive metabolites bisnorbiotin and biotin sulfoxide were determined after HPLC separation with an avidin-binding assay. The urinary concentration of 3-hydroxyisovaleric acid, an indicator of reduced activity of a biotin-dependent enzyme, was quantitated by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The urinary excretion of 3-hydroxyisovaleric acid increased significantly (P < 0.0001). For all subjects, the urinary excretion of both biotin and bisnorbiotin decreased significantly (P < 0.0001 for each). In contrast, the mean serum concentration of biotin did not decrease significantly (P = 0.06). These data provide evidence that the urinary excretion of 3-hydroxyisovaleric acid and the urinary excretion of biotin are early and sensitive indicators of biotin deficiency and that the serum concentration of biotin is not.