Since quantitative and qualitative alterations in plasma lipoproteins may provide insights into mechanism(s) of altered lipid transport in renal failure, whole plasma triglyceride (TG) and cholesterol (Chol) concentrations and lipoprotein neutral lipids and composition were examined in patients with chronic renal failure (undialyzed and dialyzed) and following successful renal transplantation. Both uremic groups demonstrated increased TG (p less than 0.001) and normal Chol in whole plasma and increased total TG and Chol in the very low-density lipoprotein fraction (VLDL). All hyperlipidemic subjects showed a Type IV phenotype. The percentage triglyceride in VLDL was slightly higher than control in the dialysis patients, and significantly increased in LDL in both undialyzed (p less than 0.001) and dialyzed (p less than 0.005) uremic groups. Transplant patients had significant increases (p less than 0.001) in both TG and Chol in whole plasma, and increased total TG and Chol in both the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and VLDL fractions. Transplant patients with hyperlipidemia showed a variety of phenotypes and an enrichment of triglyceride in VLDL and LDL. These findings indicate that abnormalities in lipoprotein metabolism in renal failure patients are not appreciably affected by chronic dialysis treatment and continue following successful transplantation. The tendency toward increased VLDL and LDL triglyceride content in these patients resembles the lipoprotein neutral lipid composition found in nonrenal patients with similarly elevated plasma lipids. These alterations could result from primary disturbances in VLDL production and/or removal.