Activities of cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) and phospholipid transfer protein (PLTP) were measured in plasma of four vertebrate species: man, rabbit, pig, and rat. The activities were measured in the absence and presence of antibodies raised against purified human CETP. PLTP activities were present in all four species with highest values in pig (11.7 +/- 1.2 U/ml) and human plasma (9.2 +/- 1.6 U/ml). Considerable lower activities were found in rabbit (3.5 +/- 0.6 U/ml) and rat plasma (1.6 +/- 0.7 U/ml). These activities were not affected significantly by antibody against human CETP. CETP activities could be measured in human (0.23 +/- 0.05 U/ml) and in rabbit plasma (0.19 +/- 0.03 U/ml). CETP activity in human plasma was inhibited over 97% by antibody against human CETP. Plasma was chromatographed on a Superose 6 gel filtration column. Average HDL particle sizes in the four species differed notably and decreased in the order: rat HDL greater than rabbit HDL greater than human HDL greater than pig HDL. A separation of the two lipid transfer activities was evident after gel filtration chromatography. The peak of the PLTP activity coeluted with a fraction of HDL particles with the size of human HDL2 (particle weights 300-375 kDa). CETP activity in human and rabbit plasma coeluted largely with relatively small HDL particles (particle weights 140-180 kDa). These results show that CETP and PLTP activities are located in different macromolecular complexes.