In this study we have synthesized sphingomyelins (SM) and phosphatidylcholines (PC) with amide-linked or sn-2 linked acyl chains with lengths from 14 to 24 carbons. The purpose was to examine how the chain length and degree of unsaturation affected the interaction of cholesterol with these phospholipids in model membrane systems. Monolayers of saturated SMs and PCs with acyl chain lengths above 14 carbons were condensed and displayed a high collapse pressure ( approximately 70 mN/m). Monolayers of N-14:0-SM and 1(16:0)-2(14:0)-PC had a much lower collapse pressure (58-60 mN/m) and monounsaturated SMs collapsed at approximately 50 mN/m. The relative interaction of cholesterol with these phospholipids was determined at 22 degreesC by measuring the rate of cholesterol desorption from mixed monolayers (50 mol % cholesterol; 20 mN/m) to beta-cyclodextrin in the subphase (1.7 mM). The rate of cholesterol desorption was lower from saturated SM monolayers than from chain-matched PC monolayers. In SM monolayers, the rate of cholesterol desorption was very slow for all N-linked chains, whereas for PC monolayers we could observe higher desorption rates from monolayers of longer PCs. These results show that cholesterol interacts favorably with SMs (low rate of desorption), whereas its interaction (or miscibility) with long chain PCs is weaker. Introduction of a single cis-unsaturation in the N-linked acyl chain of SMs led to faster rates of cholesterol desorption as compared with saturated SMs. The exception was monolayers of N-22:1-SM and N-24:1-SM from which cholesterol desorbed almost as slowly as from the corresponding saturated SM monolayers. The results of this study suggest that cholesterol is most likely capable of interacting with all physiologically relevant (including long-chain) SMs present in the plasma membrane of cells.