Apolipoprotein E (apoE), a high affinity ligand for lipoprotein receptors, is synthesized by the liver and extrahepatic tissues, including cells of the monocyte/macrophage cell lineage. The role of monocyte/macrophage-derived apoE in atherogenesis was assessed by transplantation of apoE-deficient (apoE -/-) bone marrow into normolipidemic C57B1/6 mice. No significant effect could be demonstrated on serum apoE levels in C57B1/6 mice, transplanted with apoE-deficient bone marrow compared with control transplanted mice. Furthermore, no consistent effect on serum cholesteryl esters and triglyceride concentrations could be demonstrated on either a standard chow diet or a high cholesterol diet. Quantitative analysis of atherosclerosis in mice transplanted with apoE-deficient bone marrow, after two months on a high cholesterol diet, revealed a 4-fold increase in the atherosclerotic lesion area as compared to animals transplanted with apoE +/+ bone marrow. Analysis of the ability of apoE-deficient macrophages to release cholesterol after loading with acetylated LDL revealed that the release of cholesterol from apoE-deficient macrophages was impaired as compared to wild-type macrophages in the absence and the presence of specific cholesterol acceptors. In conclusion, apoE production by macrophages retards the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, possibly by mediating cholesterol efflux. We anticipate that pharmacological approaches to increase apoE synthesis and/or secretion by macrophages might be beneficial for the treatment of atherosclerosis.