The effect of bile acid depletion and replacement with glycodeoxycholic acid on plasma cholesterol concentrations, hepatic low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor binding and messenger RNA (mRNA) levels, and hepatic activities and mRNA levels for 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase and cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase was investigated in 19 New Zealand white (NZW) and 15 Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic (WHHL) rabbits. Bile acid depletion was produced by external bile drainage for 5 days, which maximized cholic acid synthesis. Replacement was achieved by infusing glycodeoxycholic acid intraduodenally for 24 hours so that the hepatic bile acid flux reached prefistula levels. Plasma and liver cholesterol concentrations were 13 times and 50% greater, respectively, hepatic LDL receptor-mediated binding was 26% less, and cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase activity and mRNA levels were 62% and 86% less in WHHL than NZW rabbits. After bile drainage, plasma cholesterol concentrations decreased 29% in NZW rabbits and 40% in WHHL rabbits and were associated with a 2.1-fold increase in hepatic LDL receptor-mediated binding in the NZW rabbits, but there was no change in the WHHL rabbits. Cholesterol 7α- hydroxylase activity and mRNA levels increased three and four times in NZW and WHHL rabbits, respectively, although liver cholesterol levels remained unchanged. Replacement with exogenous glycodeoxycholic acid increased plasma cholesterol concentrations 1.7 times in NZW rabbits and decreased enhanced cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase activity 54%, mRNA levels 86%, cholic acid synthesis 38%, and hepatic LDL receptor- mediated binding 57% in NZW rabbits. Bile acid depletion stimulated cholic acid synthesis by up-regulating cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase to use cholesterol and reduce plasma concentrations substantially in both NZW and WHHL rabbits, although LDL receptors did not function in WHHL rabbits. Glycodeoxycholic acid replacement inhibited elevated cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase, cholic acid synthesis, and hepatic LDL receptor binding to reestablish baseline plasma cholesterol levels in NZW rabbits. Hypercholesterolemia in WHHL rabbits was related to the combination of dysfunctional LDL receptors and inhibited cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase. Plasma cholesterol concentrations were reduced significantly when cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase was stimulated even in the absence of LDL receptor function.