The rare disease cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis (CTX) is due to a lack of sterol 27-hydroxylase (CYP27A1) and is characterized by cholestanol-containing xanthomas in brain and tendons. Mice with the same defect do not develop xanthomas. The driving force in the development of the xanthomas is likely to be conversion of a bile acid precursor into cholestanol. The mechanism behind the xanthomas in the brain has not been clarified. We demonstrate here that female cyp27a1(-/-) mice have an increase of cholestanol of about 2.5- fold in plasma, 6-fold in tendons, and 12-fold in brain. Treatment of cyp27a1(-/-) mice with 0.05% cholic acid normalized the cholestanol levels in tendons and plasma and reduced the content in the brain. The above changes occurred in parallel with changes in plasma levels of 7alpha-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one, a precursor both to bile acids and cholestanol. Injection of a cyp27a1(-/-) mouse with (2)H(7)-labeled 7alpha-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one resulted in a significant incorporation of (2)H(7)-cholestanol in the brain. The results are consistent with a concentration-dependent flux of 7alpha-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one across the blood-brain barrier in cyp27a1(-/-) mice and subsequent formation of cholestanol. It is suggested that the same mechanism is responsible for accumulation of cholestanol in the brain of patients with CTX.