Diabetic dyslipidemia is a major factor contributing to the accelerated atherosclerosis in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Although several mouse models are available, the plasma lipoproteins in response to diet have not been fully characterized in these animals. In this study, we have characterized the plasma lipoproteins and related apolipoproteins, as well as the vascular lipases, in diabetes (db/db) mice and their nondiabetic controls (+/?) in the C57BL/KsJ strain. Within 6 weeks of age, db/db mice developed significant obesity, fasting hyperglycemia, and hyperinsulinemia. By FPLC analysis, db/db mice showed a prominent peak in the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) range that was absent in +/? mice, although high-density lipoprotein (HDL) was the predominant species in both groups of animals. Postheparin lipoprotein lipase (LPL) activity in db/db mice was 28% of the level in +/? mice. Upon feeding a human-like 0.15% (wt/wt) cholesterol and 21% (wt/wt) fat "Western" diet, db/db mice developed elevated plasma cholesterol, accompanied by an exaggerated apolipoprotein E (apoE) response compared with +/? mice. FPLC analysis showed that the marked hypercholesterolemic response in db/db mice was the result of a massive increase in the LDL region, which overshadowed a moderate increase in HDL. We next isolated lipoproteins by ultracentrifugation and characterized them by nondenaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. With regular chow, db/db mice had almost exclusively small dense LDL with a peak size at 21.4 nm, as compared with 26.6 nm in nondiabetic controls. On the Western diet, the small dense LDLs persisted but larger particles also appeared in db/db mice, whereas the size distribution in +/? mice was unchanged by the diet. Our results suggest that db/db mice fed a Western diet have a plasma lipoprotein phenotype that shows some similarities to that in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, and that db/db mice are a useful model to study the pathogenesis and treatment of diabetic dyslipidemia.