The relationship between cholesterol synthesis and uptake in proliferating lymphocytes has been examined. [14C]Acetate incorporation into lymphocytes cultured under lipoprotein-deficient conditions increased initially in response to mitogen, decreased after 24 h, and increased rapidly between 72 and 96 h. Addition of LDL (10 micrograms/ml) to the culture during the 'trough' period caused [14C]acetate incorporation to return rapidly to baseline, while at peak periods LDL suppression of cholesterol synthesis was minimal. Lymphocytes cultured in the presence of the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor, mevinolin, exhibited a time-dependent increase in their capacity to incorporate [14C]acetate into cholesterol, evident when mevinolin was removed by washing prior to assay. PHA enhanced 125I-labelled LDL receptor-mediated binding by lymphocytes cultured in lipoprotein-deficient medium over a 4 day period and mevinolin augmented the effect. [3H]Thymidine incorporation into mitogen-stimulated lipoprotein-deficient cultures was inhibited up to 75% by mevinolin (1 mumol/l). LDL (2.5-10 micrograms/ml) substantially reversed this inhibition in 72 h cultures, but only partially overcame inhibition in cells cultured for 96 h. Results suggest that endogenous cholesterol synthesis may be obligatory for lymphocyte proliferation after the initial round of cell division.