The rat hepatoma cell line Fu5AH has the unusual property of accumulating massive amounts of cholesteryl ester upon incubation with hypercholesterolemic serum, and especially when incubated with beta-very low density lipoproteins (beta-VLDL) from cholesterol-fed dogs. The present study was designed to identify and characterize the lipoprotein receptors that mediate the cholesteryl ester accumulation. The beta-VLDL and cholesterol-induced apolipoprotein (apo) E-containing high density lipoproteins (apoE HDLc) bound to Fu5AH cells with very high affinity (Kd approximately equal to 10(-10) M), whereas low density lipoproteins (LDL) bound with unusually low affinity (Kd approximately equal to 10(-8) M). Receptor binding activity of 125I-labeled beta-VLDL, 125I-labeled apoE HDLc, and 125I-labeled LDL was abolished by incubation in the presence of an excess of unlabeled LDL or of a polyclonal antibody to the bovine adrenal apoB,E(LDL) receptor. The receptors were completely down-regulated by preincubating Fu5AH cells with beta-VLDL, but much higher levels of beta-VLDL were required than for down-regulation of fibroblast apoB,E(LDL) receptors. Receptor binding was abolished by reductive methylation of the lysyl residues of the apolipoprotein of the beta-VLDL and by an apoE monoclonal antibody (1D7) that blocks receptor binding. The Fu5AH receptor was further characterized by using the bovine adrenal apoB,E(LDL) receptor antibody. A single protein (Mr approximately equal to 130,000) was identified in Triton extracts of whole cells, and two proteins (Mr approximately equal to 130,000 and 115,000) were found in Fu5AH cell membranes disrupted by homogenization. The Mr approximately equal to 115,000 protein was released from the membranes and did not react with an antibody to the carboxyl-terminal (cytoplasmic) domain of the apoB,E(LDL) receptors. These studies indicate that Fu5AH cells express apoB,E(LDL) receptors that have unusually low affinity for apoB-continuing lipoproteins, require large amounts of cholesterol to induce down-regulation, and are susceptible to specific proteolysis in cell homogenates. These apoB,E(LDL) receptors are responsible for the receptor-mediated uptake of beta-VLDL and chylomicron remnants by Fu5AH cells.