The major surface antigen of the bloodstream form of Trypanosoma brucei, the variant surface glycoprotein, is attached to the plasma membrane via a glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor. The biosynthesis of the glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor, as well as the assembly of the asparagine-linked oligosaccharide chains found on the variant surface glycoproteins, involves polyisoprenoid lipids that act as sugar carriers. Preliminary observations (Menon, A.K., Schwarz, R.T., Mayor, and Cross, G.A.M. (1990) J. Biol. Chem. 265, 9033-9042) suggested that the sugar carriers in T. brucei were short-chain polyisoprenoids containing substantially fewer isoprene residues than polyisoprenols in mammalian cells. In this paper we describe metabolic labeling experiments with [3H]mevalonate, as well as chromatographic and mass spectrometric analyses of products of the mevalonate pathway in T. brucei. We report that cells of the bloodstream form of T. brucei contain a limited spectrum of short chain dolichols and dolichol phosphates (11 and 12 isoprene residues). The total dolichol content was estimated to be 0.28 nmol/10(9) cells; the dolichyl phosphate content was 0.07 nmol/10(9) cells. The same spectrum of dolichol chain lengths was also found in a polar lipid that could be labeled with [3H]mevalonate, [3H]glucosamine, and [3H]mannose, and which was characterized as Man5GlcNAc2-PP-dolichol. The most abundant product of the mevalonate pathway identified in T. brucei was cholesterol (140 nmol/10(9) cells). Ubiquinone (0.09 nmol/10(9) cells) with a solanesol side chain was also identified.