The molecular cloning of mouse plasma phospholipid transfer protein (PLTP) and the eukaryotic cell expression of complementary DNA for mouse and human PLTP are described. Mouse PLTP was found to share 83% amino acid sequence identity with human PLTP. PLTP was produced in baby hamster kidney cells. Conditioned medium from BHK cells expressing PLTP possessed both phospholipid transfer activity and high density lipoprotein (HDL) conversion activity. PLTP mRNA was detected in all 16 human tissues examined by Northern blot analysis with ovary, thymus, and placenta having the highest levels. PLTP mRNA was also examined in eight mouse tissues with the highest PLTP mRNA levels found in the lung, brain, and heart. The effect of purified human plasma-derived PLTP and human recombinant PLTP (rPLTP) on the two human plasma HDL subspecies Lp(A-I) and Lp(A-I/A-II) was evaluated. Plasma PLTP or rPLTP converted the two distinct size subspecies of Lp(A-I) into a larger species, an intermediate species, and a smaller species. Lp(A-I/A-II) particles containing multiple size subspecies were significantly altered by incubation with either plasma or rPLTP with the largest but less prominent subspecies becoming the predominant one, and the smallest subspecies increasing in concentration. Thus, PLTP promoted the conversion of both Lp(A-I) and Lp(A-I/A-II) to populations of larger and smaller particles. Also, both human PLTP and mouse rPLTP were able to convert human or mouse HDL into larger and smaller particles. These observations suggest that PLTP may play a key role in extracellular phospholipid transport and modulation of HDL particles.