Although diet influences levels of lipoproteins and their corresponding apoproteins, its effects on the molecular regulation of apoprotein synthesis are relatively unknown. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were fed an atherogenic diet containing cholesterol and propylthiouracil (PTU). Intestinal apo AI and AIV mRNA concentrations were decreased by the atherogenic diet, but apo AI and AIV synthesis was increased in vitro (organ explants) and in vivo (polysome runoff), consistent with regulation at the translational level. In contrast, hepatic apo E mRNA concentration and synthesis were increased after the atherogenic diet, consistent with pretranslational regulation. The response to cholesterol feeding for hepatic apo AI and E showed a third pattern of regulation, in which synthesis increased and mRNA content remained stable or fell, again suggesting translational control, but polysome runoff synthesis was unchanged. The apparent importance of translational regulation in the intestine is consistent with the necessity for the tissue to respond rapidly to changes in intraluminal content.