Lipoprotein(a) [Lp(a)] is an atherogenic lipoprotein which is similar in structure to, but metabolically distinct from, LDL. Factors regulating plasma concentrations of Lp(a) are poorly understood. Apo(a), the protein that distinguishes Lp(a) from LDL, is highly polymorphic, and apo(a) size is inversely correlated with plasma Lp(a) level. Even within the same apo(a) isoform class, however, plasma Lp(a) concentrations vary widely. A series of in vivo kinetic studies were performed using purified radiolabeled Lp(a) in individuals with the same apo(a) isoform but different Lp(a) levels. In a group of seven subjects with a single S4-apo(a) isoform and Lp(a) levels ranging from 1 to 13.2 mg/dl, the fractional catabolic rate (FCR) of 131I-labeled S2-Lp(a) (mean 0.328 day-1) was not correlated with the plasma Lp(a) level (r = -0.346, P = 0.45). In two S4-apo(a) subjects with a 10-fold difference in Lp(a) level, the FCR's of 125I-labeled S4-Lp(a) were very similar in both subjects and not substantially different from the FCRs of 131I-S2-Lp(a) in the same subjects. In four subjects with a single S2-apo(a) isoform and Lp(a) levels ranging from 9.4 to 91 mg/dl, Lp(a) concentration was highly correlated with Lp(a) production rate (r = 0.993, P = 0.007), but poorly correlated with Lp(a) FCR (mean 0.304 day-1). Analysis of Lp(a) kinetic parameters in all 11 subjects revealed no significant correlation of Lp(a) level with Lp(a) FCR (r = -0.53, P = 0.09) and a strong correlation with Lp(a) production rate (r = 0.99, P < 0.0001). We conclude that the substantial variation in Lp(a) levels among individuals with the same apo(a) phenotype is caused primarily by differences in Lp(a) production rate.