Transfer of lipids was studied between human plasma low density lipoproteins (LDL) and triolein particles coated with an egg phosphatidylcholine monolayer, with diameter of 27 +/- 4 nm. The lipid particles were unstable and seemed to aggregate to LDL when incubated with LDL either in the presence or the absence of bovine serum albumin. Human apolipoproteins A-I, A-II, C-II, C-III, and E stabilized the lipid particles and completely prevented this process. Cholesterol rapidly appeared in the lipid particles to reach homogeneous distribution among the phospholipid surfaces of LDL and the lipid particles regardless of whether apolipoproteins were present or absent. Cholesteryl ester spontaneously appeared in the lipid particles to some extent in the absence of the apolipoproteins, and human plasma lipid transfer protein enhanced this reaction only to a very limited extend. When the lipid particles were stabilized with the apolipoproteins, spontaneous cholesteryl ester transfer was minimized and the lipid transfer protein catalyzed the transfer of cholesteryl ester markedly. There was no specific difference among the apolipoproteins in stabilizing the particles and enhancing the transfer reaction. Reciprocal decrease in volume of triglyceride was observed at the same time in the lipid particles until the relative content of cholesteryl ester in the cores of LDL was the same as in the lipid particles. The kinetics of the cholesteryl ester and triglyceride transfer was consistent with the model that the reaction is bidirectional in equilibrium and takes both non-polar lipids as substrate in a single pool.