The cholesterol lowering compound lovastatin, a competitive inhibitor of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase (EC 184.108.40.206 HMG CoA reductase), was given in nine separate experiments to normocholesterolemic dogs at rates up to 180 times the maximum therapeutic dose in man (1 mg/kg/day). Mean serum total cholesterol concentrations were reduced as much as 88% below normal. Clinical evidence of neurotoxicity occurred in up to 37% of animals given 180 mg/kg/day lovastatin for 11 or more days, especially in one laboratory where the dosing regime resulted in higher concentrations of plasma drug levels. Dogs receiving 60 mg/kg/day or less never exhibited neurologic signs. The central nervous system (CNS) of affected dogs exhibited endothelial degeneration and hemorrhagic encephalopathy. Focal extravasation of horseradish peroxidase occurred frequently (6/8) in the retrolaminar optic nerve of asymptomatic or clinically affected dogs given 180 mg/kg/day lovastatin, with endothelial degeneration and discrete optic nerve degenerative lesions interpreted as ischemic. The association between the degree of hypocholesterolemia and occurrence of clinical signs was not exact. Total brain cholesterol was similar in treated and control dogs. Hypocholesterolemic dogs had proportionally lowered serum concentrations of alpha-tocopherol, but oral supplementation of this vitamin did not prevent the neurologic syndrome. Endothelial degeneration in the CNS and optic nerve may have reflected in vitro morphologic effects of HMG CoA reductase inhibitors due to extreme inhibition of nonsterol isoprene synthesis. Retinogeniculate axonal (Wallerianlike) degeneration occurred in ≥12% of dogs given 60 mg/kg/day or more lovastatin, with central chromatolysis of occasional retinal ganglion cells. These neuroaxonal changes may have been secondary to vascular effects, but superimposed direct neurotoxic action at the high dosage levels of lovastatin could not be excluded. There was no evidence of drug induced adverse effects in the CNS of dogs given up to 30 mg/kg/day lovastatin for 2 years.