Wild-type C57BL mice are known to be susceptible to diet-induced atherosclerosis, whilst C3H mice are resistant. We investigated the effect of these background strains on the hyperlipidaemia and atherosclerosis that develops in mice deficient in apolipoprotein E (apoE(-/-)). Male and female apoE(-/-) mice on C3H/HeNHsd (C3H) and C57BL/6J (C57) backgrounds were fed atherogenic Western diet for 12 weeks. Serum cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations were measured and atherosclerosis quantified in the aortic sinus. C3H apoE(-/-) mice fed normal diet had 1.5 2 fold higher serum cholesterol levels than C57 apoE(-/-) mice and 4-5 fold higher serum triglyceride concentrations. Feeding Western diet caused a 4-5 fold increase in serum cholesterol in all mice, but levels of triglyceride were either attenuated or were unaffected in C3H apoE(-/-) and C57 apoE(-/-) mice, respectively. C3H apoE(-/-) mice had approximately 2 fold higher serum cholesterol and 4 fold higher triglyceride concentrations than the C57 apoE(-/-) mice throughout the study. Serum triglyceride concentrations were 35-108% higher in male C3H apoE(-/-) than female C3H apoE(-/-) mice. Most of the lipids were present in the very low density lipoprotein (VLDL)/chylomicron fraction in both strains of mice whether they were fed normal or Western diet. Notwithstanding the lower plasma lipid concentrations, atherosclerotic lesion areas were more than 2-fold larger in C57 apoE(-/-) than in C3H apoE(-/-) mice (males 68 +/- 11 x 10(3) vs 30 +/- 6 x 10(3) females 102 +/- 12 x 10(3) vs 41 +/- 8 x 10(3) microm2. mean +/- SEM).