Recently, there have been some reports that changes in serum lipid composition may be related to suicide, major depression and immune-inflammatory responses. Findings from our laboratory suggest that major depression is accompanied by reduced formation of cholesteryl esters and perhaps by impairment of reverse cholesterol transport. The latter is reportedly accompanied by lower serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). The aim of this study was to examine whether (i) major depression is accompanied by lower serum HDL-C or by abnormal levels of serum total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein-C (LDL-C) or vitamin E, (ii) suicidal attempts are related to lower serum HDL-C and (iii) there are significant associations between serum HDL-C and immune/inflammatory markers. A total of 36 subjects with major depression, of whom 28 patients showed treatment resistance, as well as 28 normal control subjects, had blood sampled for the assay of the above lipids, serum zinc (Zn), albumin (Alb) and flow cytometric determination of the T-helper/T-suppressor (CD4+/CD8+) T-cell ratio. In total, 28 depressed subjects had repeated measures of these variables both before and after treatment with antidepressants. Serum HDL-C and total cholesterol, as well as the HDL-C/cholesterol ratio, were significantly lower in subjects with major depression than in normal controls. Serum HDL-C levels were significantly lower in depressed men who had at some time made serious suicidal attempts than in those without such suicidal behaviour. Treatment with antidepressants for 5 weeks did not significantly alter either serum HDL-C or other lipid variables. Serum HDL-C levels were significantly and negatively correlated with the (CD4+/CD8+) T-cell ratio, and positively correlated with serum Alb and Zn. These results suggest that (i) lower serum HDL-C levels are a marker for major depression and suicidal behaviour in depressed men, (ii) lower serum HDL-C levels are probably induced by the immune/inflammatory response in depression and (iii) there is impairment of reverse cholesterol transport from the body tissues to the liver.