Homocysteinemia and hypercholesterolemia are important risk factors associated with the occurrence of arteriosclerotic vascular diseases. A positive correlation between plasma levels of homocysteine and cholesterol was found in homocysteinemic patients as well as in experimental animals. In the present study, the effect of homocysteine on the production and secretion of cholesterol in human hepatoma cell line HepG2 cells was investigated. When cells were incubated with 4 mM homocysteine, the amounts of total cholesterol produced as well as the cholesterol secreted by these cells were significantly increased (from 32 +/- 5 to 74 +/- 5 nmol/mg cellular protein). Further biochemical analyses revealed that the increase in cholesterol was resulted from an enhancement in the production and secretion of the unesterified cholesterol with no concomitant change in the level of cholesteryl esters. The activity of intracellular 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase was markedly elevated by 131% and 190% after cells were incubated with homocysteine for 24 and 48 h. Homocysteine also stimulated the secretion of apo B100 by HepG2 cells (from 0.84 +/- 0.11 to 1.37 +/- 0.12 micrograms apolipoprotein B/mg cellular protein). Our results demonstrate that homocysteine stimulates the production and secretion of cholesterol and apolipoprotein B100 in HepG2 cells. The increase in the production of cholesterol induced by homocysteine may contribute to the pathogenesis of arteriosclerosis.