ApoA-I(L141R)Pisa is a naturally occurring apolipoprotein A-I variant that causes virtual absence of HDL in hemizygotes and hypoalphalipoproteinemia with half-normal levels of HDL-cholesterol in heterozygotes. In this study we analyzed the distribution of HDL subclasses in plasmas of four hemizygotes for this mutation. We also investigated the abilities of these plasmas to esterify cholesterol and to promote cholesterol efflux. Residual apoA-I-containing lipoproteins in plasmas of hemizygotes for apoA-I(L141R)Pisa correspond to pre beta 1-LpA-I and small alpha-LpA-I. Unlike normal pre beta 1-LpA-I, pre beta 1-LpA-I of apoA-I(L141R)Pisa hemizygotes was not converted into a larger alpha-migrating particle. Plasmas of apoA-I(L141R)Pisa hemizygotes were significantly reduced in their activity to esterify cholesterol in either endogenous or exogenous lipoproteins. Cholesterol efflux capacity was significantly lower than that of normal plasma. Efflux of [3H] cholesterol from radiolabeled fibroblasts into apoB-depleted plasma of normal probands was biphasic with fast cholesterol efflux occurring in the first minute. Thereafter, cholesterol efflux was slow and unsaturable. After incubation with radiolabeled fibroblasts, efflux values of [3H]cholesterol into apoB-depleted plasma from normal controls and from apoA-I(L141R)Pisa hemizygotes were indistinguishable at 1 min. Longer incubations with apoB-free plasma from apoA-I(L141R)Pisa hemizygotes did not, however, lead to the unsaturable increase in cholesterol efflux that was observed during incubations with apoB-free plasma of normolipidemic probands. Pre beta 1-LpA-I of apoA-I(L141R)Pisa hemizygotes took up significantly less cell-derived [3H]cholesterol than pre beta 1-LpA-I of normal donors. We conclude that apoA-I(L141R)Pisa interferes with the formation of lipid-rich alpha-HDL but not with that of lipid-poor pre beta 1-LpA-I. Very low concentrations of alpha-HDL in plasmas of apoA-I(L141R)Pisa hemizygotes combined with reduced LCAT activity cause a decrease of the slow, unspecific, and LCAT-dependent components of cholesterol efflux into plasma.