A low serum tocopherol concentration and a low proportion of linoleic acid in plasma cholesterol esters have been reported to be associated with coronary heart disease. This study was undertaken to evaluate the predictive importance of the serum cholesterol ester fatty acid composition and serum tocopherol concentration in addition to established risk factors for myocardial infarction. The study comprised 2322 fifty-year-old men who participated in a health survey in 1970-1973 regarding risk factors for coronary heart disease. The proportions of myristic, palmitic, palmitoleic, and dihomogammalinolenic acid were significantly higher in 1970-1973 in subjects who suffered myocardial infarction during the following 19 years, while the proportion of linoleic acid was lower, than in those who remained healthy. Serum tocopherol did not differ significantly between the groups. LDL/HDL ratio, systolic blood pressure, and arachidonic acid/dihomogammalinolenic acid ratio were significant independent discriminators between cases and controls in a stepwise logistic regression analysis. This study suggests that middle-aged men who later develop a myocardial infarction are characterized not only by conventional risk factors but also by an altered fatty acid composition of serum cholesterol esters, with a low arachidonic to dihomogammalinolenic acid ratio, indicating reduced delta 5 desaturase activity. This may imply that changes in the quality of dietary fat intake, or an altered capacity to metabolize fatty acids in the body, could precede the development of coronary heart disease.