A critical event in atherogenesis is the interaction of arterial wall macrophages with subendothelial lipoproteins. Although most studies have investigated this interaction by incubating cultured macrophages with monomeric lipoproteins dissolved in media, arterial wall macrophages encounter lipoproteins that are mostly bound to subendothelial extracellular matrix, and these lipoproteins are often aggregated or fused. Herein, we utilize a specialized cell-culture system to study the initial interaction of macrophages with aggregated low density lipoprotein (LDL) bound to extracellular matrix. The aggregated LDL remains extracellular for a relatively prolonged period of time and becomes lodged in invaginations in the surface of the macrophages. As expected, the degradation of the protein moiety of the LDL was very slow. Remarkably, however, hydrolysis of the cholesteryl ester (CE) moiety of the LDL was 3-7-fold higher than that of the protein moiety, in stark contrast to the situation with receptor-mediated endocytosis of acetyl-LDL. Similar results were obtained using another experimental system in which the degradation of aggregated LDL protein was delayed by LDL methylation rather than by retention on matrix. Additional experiments indicated the following properties of this interaction: (a) LDL-CE hydrolysis is catalyzed by lysosomal acid lipase; (b) neither scavenger receptors nor the LDL receptor appear necessary for the excess LDL-CE hydrolysis; and (c) LDL-CE hydrolysis in this system is resistant to cellular potassium depletion, which further distinguishes this process from receptor-mediated endocytosis. In summary, experimental systems specifically designed to mimic the in vivo interaction of arterial wall macrophages with subendothelial lipoproteins have demonstrated an initial period of prolonged cell-surface contact in which CE hydrolysis exceeds protein degradation.