The plasma protein apolipoprotein (apo) E is an important determinant of lipid transport and metabolism in mammals. In the present study, immunocytochemistry has been used to identify apo E in specific cells of the central and peripheral nervous systems of the rat. Light microscopic examination revealed that all astrocytes, including specialized astrocytic cells (Bergmann glia of the cerebellum, tanycytes of the third ventricle, pituicytes of the neurohypophysis, and Müller cells of the retina), possessed significant concentrations of apo E. In all of the major subdivisions of the central nervous system, the perinuclear region of astrocytic cells, as well as their cell processes that end on basement membranes at either the pial surface or along blood vessels, were found to be rich in apo E. Extracellular apo E was present along many of these same surfaces. The impression that apo E is secreted by astrocytic cells was confirmed by electron microscopic immunocytochemical studies, which demonstrated the presence of apo E in the Golgi apparatus. Apo E was not present in neurons, oligodendroglia, microglia, ependymal cells, and choroidal cells. In the peripheral nervous system, apo E was present within the glia surrounding sensory and motor neurons; satellite cells of the dorsal root ganglia and superior cervical sympathetic ganglion as well as the enteric glia of the intestinal ganglia were reactive. Apo E was also present within the non-myelinating Schwann cells but not within the myelinating Schwann cells of peripheral nerves. These results suggest that apo E has an important, previously unsuspected role in the physiology of nervous tissue.