The molecular mechanisms of hypertriglyceridemia (HTG), a common lipid metabolic disorder in humans, often of genetic origin, are not well understood. In studying the effect of apolipoprotein (apo) E on the metabolism of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, we found that expressing high plasma levels of human apoE3 in transgenic mice lacking endogenous mouse apoE caused HTG. These transgenic animals had 3-fold higher plasma triglyceride levels, higher very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), and lower high density lipoproteins than did nontransgenics. Removing one or both low density lipoprotein receptor alleles in the apoE3-overexpressing mice caused severe HTG (8-11-fold over nontransgenics) and increased VLDL and decreased low and high density lipoproteins, and apoE3-enriched VLDL were markedly depleted in apoC-II. At least two mechanisms could explain HTG associated with apoE3 overexpression: stimulated VLDL triglyceride production and impaired VLDL lipolysis. The apoE3 mice with HTG had a 50% increase in hepatic VLDL triglyceride production. Furthermore, overexpression of apoE (E2, E3, or E4) in cultured hepatocytes (McA-RH7777 cells) correlated positively with secretion of VLDL into the medium. However, apoE3 overexpression-associated HTG was only partially explained by VLDL overproduction, as lipoprotein lipase-mediated VLDL lipolysis was also decreased 20-86% depending on apoE3 levels, most likely by displacing or masking apoC-II on the particles. In human subjects, HTG correlated positively with increased VLDL triglyceride and plasma and VLDL apoE levels. However, plasma and VLDL apoE correlated negatively with VLDL apoC-II levels and lipoprotein lipase-mediated VLDL lipolysis. Thus, optimal expression of apoE is crucial for normal metabolism of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, and overexpression and/or accumulation of apoE may contribute to HTG by stimulating VLDL triglyceride production and by impairing VLDL lipolysis. The apoE3-overexpressing mice will be useful for studying the pathophysiology of this disorder.