We have investigated the recycling of apoE in livers of apoE(-)/- mice transplanted with wild type bone marrow (apoE(+/+) --> apoE(-)/-), a model in which circulating apoE is derived exclusively from macrophages. Nascent Golgi lipoproteins were recovered from livers of apoE(+/+) --> apoE(-)/- mice 8 weeks after transplantation. ApoE was identified with nascent d < 1.006 and with d 1.006-1.210 g/ml lipoproteins at a level approximately 6% that of nascent lipoproteins from C57BL/6 mice. Hepatocytes from apoE(+/+) --> apoE(-)/- mice were isolated and cultured in media free of exogenous apoE. ApoE was found in the media primarily on the d < 1.006 g/ml fraction, indicating a resecretion of internalized apoprotein. Secretion of apoE from C57BL/6 hepatocytes was consistent with constitutive production, whereas the majority of apoE secreted from apoE(+/+) --> apoE(-)/- hepatocytes was recovered in the last 24 h of culture. This suggests that release may be triggered by accumulation of an acceptor, such as very low density lipoproteins, in the media. In agreement with the in vivo data, total recovery of apoE from apoE(+/+) --> apoE(-)/- hepatocytes was approximately 6% that of the apoE recovered from C57BL/6 hepatocytes. Since plasma apoE levels in the transplanted mice are approximately 10% of control levels, the findings indicate that up to 60% of the internalized apoE may be reutilized under physiologic conditions. These studies provide definitive evidence for the sparing of apoE and its routing through the secretory pathway and demonstrate that internalized apoE can be resecreted in a quantitatively significant fashion.