In view of the evidence linking plasma high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol levels to a protective effect against coronary artery disease and the widespread use of fibrates in the treatment of hyperlipidemia, the goal of this study was to analyze the influence of fibrates on the expression of apolipoprotein (apo) A-II, a major protein constituent of HDL. Administration of fenofibrate (300 mg/d) to 16 patients with coronary artery disease resulted in a marked increase in plasma apo A-II concentrations (0.34 +/- 0.11 to 0.45 +/- 0.17 grams/liter; P < 0.01). This increase in plasma apo A-II was due to a direct effect on hepatic apo A-II production, since fenofibric acid induced apo A-II mRNA levels to 450 and 250% of control levels in primary cultures of human hepatocytes and in human hepatoblastoma HepG2 cells respectively. The induction in apo A-II mRNA levels was followed by an increase in apo A-II secretion in both cell culture systems. Transient transfection experiments of a reporter construct driven by the human apo A-II gene promoter indicated that fenofibrate induced apo A-II gene expression at the transcriptional level. Furthermore, several other peroxisome proliferators, such as the fibrate, Wy-14643, and the fatty acid, eicosatetraynoic acid (ETYA), also induced apo A-II gene transcription. Unilateral deletions and site-directed mutagenesis identified a sequence element located in the J-site of the apo A-II promoter mediating the responsiveness to fibrates and fatty acids. This element contains two imperfect half sites spaced by 1 oligonucleotide similar to a peroxisome proliferator responsive element (PPRE). Cotransfection assays showed that the peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPAR) transactivates the apo A-II promoter through this AII-PPRE. Gel retardation assays demonstrated that PPAR binds to the AII-PPRE with an affinity comparable to its binding affinity to the acyl coA oxidase (ACO)-PPRE. In conclusion, in humans fibrates increase plasma apo A-II concentrations by inducing hepatic apo A-II production. Apo A-II expression is regulated at the transcriptional level by fibrates and fatty acids via the interaction of PPAR with the AII-PPRE, thereby demonstrating the pivotal role of PPAR in controlling human lipoprotein metabolism.