Liver fatty acid binding protein, L-FABP, is an abundant protein that binds fatty acids in vitro. The effects of L-FABP on plasma membrane lipid composition, distribution, and physical structure were determined in intact L-cell fibroblasts transfected with cDNA encoding L-FABP. L-FABP expression altered plasma membrane phospholipids by decreasing both phosphosphatidylethanolamine and esterified oleic acid content, and increasing sphingomyelin. L-FABP also binds sterols and stimulates sterol uptake and esterification. The fluorescent sterol dehydroergosterol was used to examine sterol distribution in the transfected cell plasma membrane. Dehydroergosterol codistributed equally with the cholesterol in both the bulk membrane and the individual bilayer leaflets. The sterol/phospholipid ratio was decreased in the inner leaflet due to sterol depletion. Concomitantly, intermembrane sterol transfer from the rapidly exchangeable lateral sterol domains as measured by exchange of dehydroergosterol, was reduced. The fluidity of the plasma membrane was measured with the fluorescent molecule diphenylhexatriene by multifrequency (1-250 MHz) phase and modulation fluorometry. Both the bulk plasma membrane and the plasma membrane outer leaflet lipids were fluidized in transfected cells. These alterations of plasma membrane structure and composition are consistent with a role for L-FABP in regulating intracellular sterol and fatty acid distribution and thereby membrane lipid domain structure.