Hepatic lipase (HL) hydrolysis of phosphatidylcholine (PC) was studied in recombinant high-density lipoprotein particles (r-HDL). r-HDL were made from cholate mixed micelles that contained PC, apo AI, and, in some cases, unesterified cholesterol. r-HDL were characterized using chemical composition, nondenaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, transmission electron microscopy, and dynamic light scattering. The r-HDL were found to be discoidal and in the size range of native HDL. Upon treatment of cholesterol-containing r-HDL with lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT), to form cholesteryl ester, the discoidal r-HDL became spheroidal. The effects of r-HDL morphology and size on HL activity were studied on r-HDL made of palmitoyloleoyl-PC, unesterified cholesterol, cholesteryl ester, and apolipoprotein AI. Spheroidal r-HDL were hydrolyzed at a faster rate than discoidal r-HDL. Protein-poor r-HDL were hydrolyzed by HL at a faster rate than protein rich r-HDL. Unesterified cholesterol had no apparent effect on particle PC hydrolysis. The hydrolysis of different species of PC [dipalmitoyl (DPPC), dioleoyl(DOPC), palmitoylarachidonoyl (PAPC), and palmitoyloleoyl (POPC)] in r-HDL was also investigated. In discoidal r-HDL, we found that POPC >/= DOPC = PAPC/DPPC. However, in LCAT-treated spheroidal r-HDL, POPC = DOPC > PAPC/DPPC. In both discoidal and spheroidal rHDL, DPPC containing r-HDL were not hydrolyzed to a significant extent. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that the physico-chemical properties of particles (such as phospholipid packing and phospholipid acyl composition) play a significant role in hydrolysis of HDL phospholipid by HL and, therefore, in reverse cholesterol transport.