The purpose of this study was to determine the fatty acid composition of the serum phospholipids of children with sickle cell disease (SCD) in Nigeria and to compare the relative fluidity of the acyl chains of the serum phospholipids of controls versus the subjects with SCD. It is widely accepted that the fatty acid composition of an individual's serum phospholipids reflects that of their tissue phospholipids. An alteration in the fatty acid composition of membrane phospholipids could affect critical membrane-dependent enzymes and processes (e.g., ion and solute transport, hormone-receptor interactions, signal transduction pathways). We found a significant reduction in the content of polyunsaturated n-3 fatty acids in the phospholipids of subjects with SCD which could result in a reduction of the fluidity of their tissue membranes. Specifically, there was a 40-50% reduction in the proportion of total n-3 fatty acids in subjects with SCD. On the basis of calculated melting points and double bond indices of the acyl chains of the serum phospholipids, the phospholipids of the children with SCD are less fluid relative to those of their healthy counterparts. In addition, we determined that linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, and stearic acid were the major determinants of the fluidity of the acyl chains of the serum phospholipids of the healthy controls and children with SCD.