The effect of cholesterol on stearoyl CoA desaturase (SCD) was investigated. Previous work had shown that the addition of cholesterol to the diet of rats produced higher liver SCD activity compared to non-cholesterol-fed controls. We have confirmed this result and investigated the mechanism responsible for this cholesterol-induced higher SCD activity. Rats were fed either a 10% corn oil (CO) or a 10% corn oil/1% cholesterol (CO/CH) diet for 1, 3, or 7 days. SCD mRNA abundance was 3.3, 1.9, and 2.4 times greater in livers from CO/CH-fed animals after 1, 3, and 7 days, respectively. Northern hybridization of RNA from kidney, intestinal mucosa, heart, adipose, and liver demonstrated that cholesterol feeding specifically altered liver SCD mRNA. Liver esterified cholesterol content increased 27-fold with cholesterol feeding. This esterified cholesterol increase was accompanied by a proportionately greater increase in oleic acid compared to other fatty acids. These studies indicate that cholesterol does influence the expression of SCD specifically in the liver and suggest that the product, oleic acid, is preferentially esterified to cholesterol in the liver. Preliminary liver nuclear run-on assays from rats fed CO or CO/CH diets for 1 and 3 days indicate that transcription regulation is not a factor.