Familial lipoprotein lipase (LPL) deficiency is a rare genetic disorder accompanied by well-characterized manifestations. The phenotypic expression of heterozygous LPL deficiency has not been so clearly defined. We studied the pedigree of a proband known to be homozygous for a mutation resulting in nonfunctional LPL. Hybridization of DNA from 126 members with allele-specific probes detected 29 carriers of the mutant allele. Adipose tissue LPL activity, measured previously, was reduced by 50% in carriers, but did not reliably distinguish them from noncarriers. Carriers were prone to the expression of a form of familial hypertriglyceridemia characterized by increased plasma triglyceride, VLDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B, and decreased LDL and HDL cholesterol concentrations. These manifestations were age modulated, with conspicuous differences between carriers and noncarriers observed only after age 40. Several noncarriers exhibited similar lipid abnormalities, but without the inverse relationship between VLDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol noted among carriers. In addition to age and carrier status, the potentially reversible conditions, obesity, hyperinsulinemia and lipid-raising drug use were contributory. Thus heterozygous lipoprotein lipase deficiency, together with age-related influences, may account for a form of familial hypertriglyceridemia.