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The assembly of very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) by hepatocytes is believed to occur via a two-step process. The first step is the formation of a dense phospholipid and protein-rich particle that is believed to be converted to VLDL by the addition of bulk triglyceride in a second step. Previous studies in our laboratory led us to hypothesize a third assembly step that occurs in route to or in the Golgi apparatus. To investigate this hypothesis, nascent lipoproteins were recovered from Golgi apparatus-rich fractions isolated from mouse liver. The Golgi fractions were enriched 125-fold in galactosyltransferase and contained lipoprotein particles averaging approximately 35 nm in diameter. These lipoproteins were separated by ultracentrifugation into two fractions: d < 1.006 g/ml and d1.006;-1.210 g/ml. The d < 1.006 g/ml fraction contained apolipoprotein B-100 (apoB-100), apoB-48, and apoE, while the d1.006;-1.210 g/ml fraction contained these three apoproteins as well as apoA-I and apoA-IV. Both fractions contained a 21-kDa protein that was isolated and sequenced and identified as major urinary protein. Approximately 50% of the apoB was recovered with the denser fraction. To determine if these small, dense lipoproteins were secreted without further addition of lipid, mice were injected with Triton WR1339 and [(3)H]leucine, and the secretion of apoB-100 and apoB-48 into serum VLDL (d < 1.006 g/ml) and d1.006;-1.210 g/ml fractions was monitored over a 2-h period. More than 80% of the newly synthesized apoB-48 and nearly 100% of the apoB-100 were secreted with VLDL. These studies provide the first characterization of nascent lipoproteins recovered from the Golgi apparatus of mouse liver. We conclude that these nascent hepatic Golgi lipoproteins represent a heterogeneous population of particles including VLDL as well as a population of small, dense lipoproteins. The finding of the latter particles, coupled with the demonstration that the primary secretory product of mouse liver is VLDL, suggests that lipid may be added to nascent lipoproteins within the Golgi apparatus.