Recent in vitro studies have provided evidence that hepatic lipase (HL) facilitates the selective uptake of HDL cholesteryl esters (CE), but the in vivo physiological relevance of this process has not been demonstrated. To evaluate the role that HL plays in facilitating the selective uptake of HDL-CE in vivo, we studied the metabolism of [(3)H]CEt, (125)I-labeled apolipoprotein (apo) A-I, and (131)I-labeled apoA-II-labeled HDL in HL-deficient mice. Kinetic analysis revealed similar catabolism of (125)I-labeled apoA-I (as well as (131)I-labeled apoA-II) in C57BL controls and HL deficient mice, with fractional catabolic rates (FCR) of 2.17 +/- 0.15 and 2.16 +/- 0.11 d(-)(1) (2.59 +/- 0.14 and 2.67 +/- 0.13 d(-)(1), respectively). In contrast, despite similar hepatic scavenger receptor BI expression, HL-deficient mice had delayed clearance of [(3)H]CEt compared to controls (FCR = 3.66 +/- 0.29 and 4.41 +/- 0.18 d(-)(1), P < 0.05). The hepatic accumulation of [(3)H]CEt in HL-deficient mice (62.3 +/- 2.1% of total) was significantly less than in controls (72.7 +/- 3.0%), while the [(3)H]CEt remaining in the plasma compartment increased (20.7 +/- 1.8% and 12.6 +/- 0.5%) (P < 0.05, all). In summary, HL deficiency does not alter the catabolism of apoA-I and apoA-II but decreases the hepatic uptake and the plasma clearance of HDL-CE. These data establish for the first time an important role for HL in facilitating the selective uptake of HDL-CE in vivo.