Apolipoprotein E (apoE), a polymorphic plasma protein, is essential for catabolism of lipoproteins by receptor-mediated endocytosis. One of the apoE isoforms (E2) differs in its binding affinity to specific receptors and contributes to variations in lipoprotein metabolism. Diagnosis of apoE isoforms is done by isoelectric focusing, but it is hindered by various degrees of post-translational sialylation of the apoE protein. Electrophoretically silent structural variations may also escape detection by this technique. We describe a method for genotyping apoE based on hybridization of allele-specific oligonucleotides with enzymatically amplified genomic DNA, which permits unambiguous diagnosis of six common apoE phenotypes within 24 h. Among 100 E2 alleles present in 81 unrelated individuals genotyped by this technique, we found two rare structural mutants of apoE in addition to the common E2 form, E2(158Arg----Cys). Automated sequencing of amplified DNA identified the rare mutants as E2(136Arg----Ser) and E2(145Arg----Cys). The genotypic method may complement or even replace isoelectric focusing for routine determination of apoE phenotypes and for identification of rare structural variants.