So far, a protective influence of phytosterols on the human organism and atherogenesis has been suggested. Most studies have concentrated on the cytotoxic efficacy of phytosterols on cancer cells. However, there are only a few reports showing their influence on normal cells. The aim of the present study was to determine whether dietary plant sterols and their thermal processing products could influence the viability of normal, abdominal endothelial cells that play a crucial role in atherogenesis. Thus, we studied the effect of rapeseed oil-extract components, β-sitosterol, cholesterol and their epoxy-derivatives, 5α,6α-epoxy-β-sitosterol and 5α,6α-epoxycholesterol, on the proliferation and viability of human abdominal aorta endothelial cells HAAE-2 in vitro. We showed strong cytotoxic properties of β-sitosterol in HAAE-2 cells (half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) = 1·99 (sem 0·56) μm) and, interestingly, a weaker cytotoxic effect of 5α,6α-epoxy-β-sitosterol (IC50>200 μm). Moreover, we observed a significantly stronger cytotoxic activity of β-sitosterol than cholesterol (IC50 = 8·99 (sem 2·74) μm). We also revealed that β-sitosterol as well as cholesterol caused apoptosis, inducing caspase-3 activity in the cells (60 % increase compared with control cells) that corresponded to the DNA fragmentation analysis in a terminal uridine deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate nick-end labelling (TUNEL) study. Although absorption of plant sterols is low compared with cholesterol, they can still influence other physiological functions. Since they effectively reduce serum LDL-cholesterol and atherosclerotic risk but also decrease the viability of cancer cells as well as normal cells in a time- and dose-dependent manner in vitro, their influence on other metabolic processes remains to be elucidated.