The serum lipoprotein concentrations, including high-density lipoprotein (HDL) subfractions and apolipoproteins Al and B were measured in 21 patients (14 male and seven female) with nephrotic range proteinuria (greater than 3g/24hr), well maintained renal function (creatinine clearance greater than 35 mliter/min/1.73m2) and biopsy-proven primary glomerular disease. In these, and in a further five patients (creatinine clearance greater than 15 mliter/min/1.73m2), urinary apolipoprotein Al output was determined. Total HDL cholesterol was similar in patients and controls, but in male patients, HDL2 was low (0.54 +/- 0.10 mmole/liter, mean +/- SEM) compared to controls (0.75 +/- 0.04 mmole/liter, P less than HDL3 was high (0.81 +/- 0.07 in patients and 0.63 +/- 0.02 mmole/liter in controls, P less than 0.01). In women, there was a similar tendency for HDL2 to be lower in patients (0.68 +/- 0.18 mmole/liter) than in controls (0.85 +/- 0.10 mmole/liter). Multiple regression analysis revealed that major determinants of the urinary apolipoprotein Al output were the urinary protein output and selectivity index (multiple r = 0.85). Furthermore, some patients lost apolipoprotein Al into their urine at rates indicating increased production of apolipoprotein Al in the nephrotic syndrome. The serum HDL subfraction concentrations in the nephrotic syndrome could be explained by a combination of increased HDL production and increased urinary loss of low molecular wt HDL.