Plant sterols are an essential component of the membranes of all eukaryotic organisms. They are either synthesised de novo or taken up from the environment. Their function appears to be to control membrane fluidity and permeability, although some plant sterols have a specific function in signal transduction. The phytosterols are products of the isoprenoid pathway. The dedicated pathway to sterol synthesis in photosynthetic plants occurs at the squalene stage through the activity of squalene synthetase. Although the activity of 3-hydroxymethyl-3-glutaryl coenzyme A (HGMR) is rate-limiting in the synthesis of cholesterol, this does not appear to be the case with the plant sterols. Up-regulation of HGMR appears to increase the biosynthesis of cycloartenol but not the Δ 5 -sterols. A decline in sterol synthesis is associated with a suppression of squalene synthetase activity, which is probably a critical point in controlling carbon flow and end-product formation. The major post-squalene biosynthetic pathway is regulated by critical rate-limiting steps such as the methylation of cycloartenol into cycloeucalenol. Little is known about the factors controlling the biosynthesis of the end-point sterol esters or stanols. The commonly consumed plant sterols are sitosterol, stigmasterol and campesterol which are predominantly supplied by vegetable oils. The oils are a rich source of the steryl esters. Less important sources of sterols are cereals, nuts and vegetables. The nutritional interest derives from the fact that the sterols have a similar structure to cholesterol, and have the capacity to lower plasma cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Since the morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease have been dramatically reduced using cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), the interest in plant sterols lies in their potential to act as a natural preventive dietary product. Stanols (saturated at C-5) occur in low amounts in the diet and are equally effective in lowering plasma cholesterol and do not cause an increase in plasma levels, unlike the sterols which can be detected in plasma.