The involvement of the low density lipoprotein receptor-related protein (LRP) in chylomicron remnant (CR) catabolism was investigated. Ligand blot analyses demonstrated that beta-very low density lipoproteins (beta-VLDL) incubated with apolipoprotein E (beta-VLDL+E) bound to the LRP and low density lipoprotein receptors, whereas active (receptor-binding) alpha 2-macroglobulin (alpha 2M) bound only to LRP partially purified from rat liver membranes. Iodinated beta-VLDL+E and active alpha 2M showed high affinity binding to the LRP/alpha 2M receptor of low density lipoprotein receptor-negative fibroblasts. The binding and degradation of radiolabeled alpha 2M by these cells were partially inhibited by beta-VLDL+E. Furthermore, alpha 2M interfered with the internalization of beta-VLDL+E and subsequent induction in the cholesterol esterification by these cells. These studies suggested that remnant lipoproteins and active alpha 2M compete for binding to the LRP/alpha 2M receptor. Next, we examined whether the LRP/alpha 2M receptor plays a role, in the presence of low density lipoprotein receptors, in the in vivo catabolism of CR in mice. In vivo studies demonstrated that the unlabeled active, but not the native, alpha 2M partially inhibited the plasma clearance and hepatic uptake of radiolabeled CR or apoE-enriched radiolabled CR. Likewise, apoE-enriched CR retarded the plasma clearance and hepatic uptake of radiolabeled active alpha 2M. These studies provide physiological evidence that the LRP/alpha 2M receptor may function as a CR receptor that removes CR from the plasma.