The present study reports on the interaction between basal triglyceride and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in determining the magnitude of postprandial triglyceridemia. The vitamin A fat-loading test was used to label intestinally derived triglyceride-rich particles after a high fat meal in 18 subjects with low HDL cholesterol and 6 control subjects who had normal fasting triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels. The patients with low HDL cholesterol were divided into 2 groups on the basis of their basal triglyceride concentrations; 11 had normal triglyceride levels, and 7 had elevated serum triglycerides (HTG). In the HTG-low HDL group, the incremental area under the triglyceride curve was significantly greater (P less than 0.0003) than that in the other 2 groups, between whom no significant differences in triglyceride response were observed. Retinyl palmitate levels measured in whole plasma, an Sf greater than 1000 chylomicron fraction, and an Sf less than 1000 nonchylomicron fraction were also significantly greater in low HDL subjects with HTG, while the concentrations in low HDL subjects with normal triglyceride levels and control subjects were similar. Although basal HDL cholesterol levels in all study subjects were negatively correlated with the area under the incremental triglyceride curve (r = -0.42; P less than 0.05), this correlation was weak, in contrast to the correlation between fasting triglyceride levels and incremental triglyceride area (r = 0.56; P less than 0.005). Furthermore, basal HDL cholesterol levels did not correlate with the area under the chylomicron or nonchylomicron curves, whereas basal triglyceride levels were significantly correlated (P = 0.0001) with both of these variables. The HDL particles of both low HDL groups had a significantly higher proportion of triglyceride compared to the HDL particles in the control subjects. In conclusion, 1) fasting triglyceride levels are a more powerful indicator of the postprandial lipid response than basal HDL cholesterol in subjects with low HDL cholesterol levels; 2) patients with low HDL cholesterol levels do not preferentially accumulate chylomicron remnants after a meal unless they have coexisting hypertriglyceridemia; and 3) abnormalities in the levels of triglyceride-rich particles post-prandially are unlikely to be responsible for the increased incidence of atherosclerosis in low HDL patients who are normotriglyceridemic.