The plasma-borne long-chain free fatty acids (FFA) enter skeletal muscle cells. Upon entering they are oxidized or esterified and a fraction remains free (non-esterified). The data on free fatty acids in skeletal muscles remain highly controversial. Furthermore, the composition of individual fatty acids in various lipid fractions including free fatty acids, monoglyceride and diglyceride in muscles has not been characterized. Also data on the composition of fatty acids esterified into muscle triglycerides and phospholipids are incomplete. The present study was undertaken to examine a composition of fatty acids in lipid fractions of different skeletal muscle types. For this purpose, samples of the rat soleus, red and white portions of gastrocnemius were excised, trimmed of visible fat and fascias and immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen. Samples were then pulverized and, lipids were extracted and fractionated by thin-layer chromatography. Individual long-chain fatty acids in different fractions were identified, characterized and quantitated by gas-liquid chromatography. FFA composition in the plasma was also determined. The total FFA content in the soleus, red and white gastrocnemius was 69.1 +/- 10.8, 49.0 +/- 13.6 and 22.7 +/- 8.6 nmol/g, respectively. Palmitic and oleic acids were the major fatty acids in the muscles FFA fraction. Monoglyceride fraction of each muscle contained palmitic, stearic and linoleic acid as the major fatty acids, Diglyceride fraction contained mostly palmitic and oleic acid whereas triglyceride fraction mostly palmitic and linoleic acid.. The fraction of phospholipids was composed mostly of palmitic and linoleic acid but contained also considerable percentage of archidonic acid. Total plasma FFA/muscle FFA ratio depended on a muscle type and was: 2.4 in the soleus, 3.5 in the red and 7.4 in the white gastrocnemius. This assured transport of FFA to the myocytes. However, there were great differences in the ratio between particular FFA within the same muscle as well between the muscles. It indicates that individual FFA are either selectively transported from the plasma to the muscles or selectively used within the myocytes or both.