The possible beneficial effects of infusing a lipid emulsion containing 50% by weight of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) compared with a standard long-chain triglyceride (LCT) emulsion were studied in 18 premature neonates (gestational age <34 weeks) requiring parenteral nutrition. The infants were assigned in a double-blind manner to receive one of the two lipid emulsions over 17 hours a day as a supplemental regimen for total parenteral nutrition. A lipid load of 1 g/kg per day was initiated on the third day of life and was increased at the rate of 1 g/kg per day until a maximal dose of 3 g/kg per day was obtained on the fifth day of life and maintained thereafter. Both bound and unbound bilirubin decreased with both infusion regimens during the study period. Despite a marked increase in plasma free fatty acid levels (260% in the MCT/LCT group compared with 210% in the LCT group), the fraction of unbound (free) bilirubin was significantly lower in the MCT/LCT group (34% vs 13%). Free fatty acid levels, corrected to albumin, were positively correlated to the percentage of free bilirubin only for the LCT lipid infusion. The finding of a significant elevation of plasma cholesterol levels only in the MCT/LCT group is now under investigation. Use of the MCT-containing emulsion was not associated with a higher frequency of adverse effects than the commonly used LCT-containing emulsion. It is concluded that the lipid emulsion containing MCT is safe for use as a calorie source in lipid supplementation of total parenteral nutrition in premature infants under the conditions studied and that it is probably preferable in situations in which hyperbilirubinemia limits the use of the conventional LCT emulsion.