The epsilon4 allele of apolipoprotein E gene is a major risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. However, the mechanism by which the E4 isoform of apolipoprotein E increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease is poorly understood. To determine whether the isoform-specific effects of apolipoprotein E may be mediated via clearance of bound beta-amyloid, we examined the uptake of beta-amyloid 1-40 into Chinese hamster ovary cells in the presence or absence of the apolipoprotein E isoforms E2, E3 and E4. Apolipoprotein E2 and E3 treatments were associated with higher association of beta-amyloid with cells as compared to treatment with E4. Heparin blocked the association of beta-amyloid with cells, as did an antibody to one of the apolipoprotein E receptors (the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein). Thus, the apolipoproteins E2 and E3, but not E4, may play important roles in the clearance of beta-amyloid from the extracellular space via the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein.