Class A amphipathic helical peptides have been shown to mimic many properties of exchangeable apolipoproteins. The three analogs of the class A amphipathic peptides were used to probe the structure and function of human very low density lipoproteins (VLDL): 1) 18 residue peptide possessing a single helical domain (18A) with the sequence Asp-Trp-Leu-Lys-Ala-Phe-Tyr- Asp-Lys-Val-Ala-Glu-Lys-Leu-Lys-Glu-Ala-Phe; 2) two domains of 18A separated by a Pro (37pA); and 3) an 18A analog with the end groups protected to increase helicity (Ac-18A-NH2). Upon incubation of the peptides with VLDL at a peptide to VLDL (protein) ratio of 1:1, the 37pA and Ac-18A-NH2 were able to displace most of apolipoprotein (apo) Cs and E from VLDL without alteration in its lipid composition and morphology while 18A had minimal effect. The extent of displacement was a function of the peptide to VLDL ratio. The rank order of displaceability of apolipoproteins on VLDL was apoE < C-III < C-II. The displacement of apoE and/or Cs from VLDL by peptides variably affected the ability of VLDL to interact with purified bovine milk lipoprotein lipase (LpL) and cultured macrophages. Treatment of VLDL with Ac- 18-NH2 markedly lowered its reactivity to LpL and its ability to induce lipid accumulation in cultured macrophages; however, treatment of VLDL with 37pA or 18A only minimally lowered their abilities. Ac-18A-NH2 treatment of VLDL resulted in the increase of apparent K(m) and a decrease of V(max) for lipoprotein lipase (LpL)-catalyzed hydrolysis of VLDL triglycerides. When an artificial triglyceride emulsion was used as a substrate of LpL, 37pA, but not Ac-18A-NH2, activated. LpL. The above data indicate that 1) amphipathic helical peptides can alter the metabolic and functional properties of VLDL by dissociating the functionally important exchangeable apolipoproteins from VLDL as well as by acting as a functional element of VLDL after their incorporation; and 2) the class A amphipathic peptides having different lipid-associating properties exert significantly different effect on VLDL function.