We have analyzed plasma lipoprotein levels in young male rats fed a choline-deficient diet for 3 days. We confirmed previous studies that choline deficiency promotes 6.5-fold accumulation of triacyglycerol in the liver (23.9 +/- 6.0 versus 3.69 +/- 0.92 mumol/g liver) and reduction of triacylglycerol concentration in plasma by 60% (0.17 +/- 0.04 versus 0.46 +/- 0.10 mumol/mL plasma). Agarose gel electrophoresis showed that the plasma very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels were reduced in choline-deficient rats, but the concentration of plasma high density lipoproteins (HDL) was not affected. Sodium dodecyl sulfate - polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of fractionated plasma lipoproteins revealed that the concentrations of apolipoproteins (apo) BH, BL, and E in VLDL from choline-deficient rats were 37.1, 11.0, and 37.2% of normal levels, respectively. In contrast, the amount of apo A-I, the major one in HDL, was almost unchanged. Correspondingly, there were decreased lipid (mainly phosphatidylcholine and triacylglycerol) levels in VLDL from choline-deficient rats, but no change in the levels of phosphatidylcholine, cholesterol, and cholesterol ester in HDL. There were similar levels of apo B and E (components of VLDL) in homogenates of livers from normal and choline-deficient rats, as determined by immunoblotting. These results support the hypothesis that choline deficiency causes reduction of VLDL, but not HDL, levels in plasma as a consequence of impaired hepatic VLDL secretion.