Atherosclerosis is the leading obstacle to long-term survival in cardiac transplant patients. Increases in plasma triglycerides and lipoprotein cholesterol levels occur after transplantation that may contribute to transplant atherosclerosis. The etiology of this increase is unclear. We investigated the interaction of immunosuppressive medications with plasma triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the HDL subclasses HDL2 and HDL3 cholesterol, and hepatic and lipoprotein lipase activity in 72 consecutive cardiac transplant patients compared to 51 healthy control subjects. In the transplantation group, greater concentrations of plasma triglyceride (80%, p less than 0.001), LDL cholesterol (16%, p less than 0.005) and hepatic lipase activity (100%, p less than 0.001) were noted, whereas lipoprotein lipase activity was noted to be significantly lower (124%, p less than 0.001). No difference was detected in HDL, HDL2, or HDL3 cholesterol. Cyclosporine dose was significantly associated with hepatic lipase activity (r = 0.33, p less than 0.02) and inversely associated with lipoprotein lipase activity (r = -0.28, p less than 0.05). Lipoprotein lipase activity after transplantation correlated inversely with triglycerides (r = -0.36, p less than 0.002) and positively with HDL cholesterol (r = 0.23, p less than 0.05) and HDL2 cholesterol (r = 0.29, p less than 0.05). Hepatic lipase activity correlated inversely with LDL cholesterol (r = -0.21, p less than 0.08). In multiple regression analysis, cyclosporine dose was the major source of variation in hepatic lipase activity.