1. Male rats at 1 (young) and 9 months (adult) of age were fed on purified diets, supplemented with or without cholesterol, containing 200 g protein/kg (casein (CAS), whey protein (WHY) or soya-bean protein (SOY)) for 4 weeks.
2. SOY exerted a hypocholesterolaemic effect in young rats regardless of dietary cholesterol, whereas in adult rats it was observed only when a cholesterol-enriched diet was given. WHY was also hypocholesterolaemic in rats of both ages given cholesterol. SOY tended to reduce the liver cholesterol both in young and adult rats.
3. The liver hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA reductase (NADPH) (EC 220.127.116.11) activity tended to be lower in the vegetable-protein groups than in the animal-protein groups in young rats, but the age-related reduction was observed only in the latter groups.
4. There was no significant age-related difference in the activity of liver cholesterol 7α-monooxygenase (EC 18.104.22.168) in response to diets. However, when cholesterol was given, activity tended to decrease with age. Rats given SOY excreted more faecal steroids than those given casein, particularly adult rats.
5. The fatty acid profile of phosphatidylcholine and the Δ6-desaturase activity of liver microsomes indicated the reduced desaturation of linoleate in the SOY and WHY groups compared with the CAS groups.
6. The results thus showed a complex interaction of protein type, cholesterol and age on cholesterol homeostasis.