Previous studies have investigated the potential atherogenicity and thrombogenicity of triglyceride-rich lipoprotein (TRL) remnants by isolating them from plasma within a remnant-like particle (RLP) fraction, using an immunoaffinity gel containing specific anti-apoB-100 and anti-apoA-I antibodies. In order to characterize lipoproteins in this RLP fraction and to determine to what extent their composition varies from one individual to another, we have used automated gel filtration chromatography to determine the size heterogeneity of RLP isolated from normolipidemic control subjects (n = 8), and from type III (n = 6) and type IV (n = 9) hyperlipoproteinemic patients, who by selection had similarly elevated levels of plasma triglyceride (406 +/- 43 and 397 +/- 35 mg/dl, respectively). Plasma RLP triglyceride, cholesterol, apoB, apoC-III, and apoE concentrations were elevated 2- to 6-fold (P < 0. 05) in hyperlipoproteinemic patients compared to controls. RLP fractions of type III patients were enriched in cholesterol and apoE compared to those of type IV patients, and RLP of type IV patients were enriched in triglyceride and apoC-III relative to those of normolipidemic subjects. In normolipidemic subjects, the majority of RLP had a size similar to LDL or HDL. The RLP of hyperlipoproteinemic patients were, however, larger and were similar in size to TRL, or were intermediate in size (i.e., ISL) between that of TRL and LDL. Compared to controls, ISL in the RLP fraction of type III patients were enriched in apoE relative to apoC-III, whereas in type IV patients they were enriched in apoC-III relative to apoE. These results demonstrate that: 1) RLP are heterogeneous in size and composition in both normolipidemic and hypertriglyceridemic subjects, and 2) the apoE and apoC-III composition of RLP is different in type III compared to type IV hyperlipoproteinemic patients.