The regulation of liver apolipoprotein (apo) A-I gene expression by fibrates was studied in human apo A-I transgenic mice containing a human genomic DNA fragment driving apo A-I expression in liver. Treatment with fenofibrate (0.5% wt/wt) for 7 d increased plasma human apo A-I levels up to 750% and HDL-cholesterol levels up to 200% with a shift to larger particles. The increase in human apo A-I plasma levels was time and dose dependent and was already evident after 3 d at the highest dose (0.5% wt/wt) of fenofibrate. In contrast, plasma mouse apo A-I concentration was decreased after fenofibrate in nontransgenic mice. The increase in plasma human apo A-I levels after fenofibrate treatment was associated with a 97% increase in hepatic human apo A-I mRNA, whereas mouse apo A-I mRNA levels decreased to 51%. In nontransgenic mice, a similar down-regulation of hepatic apo A-I mRNA levels was observed. Nuclear run-on experiments demonstrated that the increase in human apo A-I and the decrease in mouse apo A-I gene expression after fenofibrate occurred at the transcriptional level. Since part of the effects of fibrates are mediated through the nuclear receptor PPAR (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor), the expression of the acyl CoA oxidase (ACO) gene was measured as a control of PPAR activation. Both in transgenic and nontransgenic mice, fenofibrate induced ACO mRNA levels up to sixfold. When transgenic mice were treated with gemfibrozil (0.5% wt/wt) plasma human apo A-I and HDL-cholesterol levels increased 32 and 73%, respectively, above control levels. The weaker effect of this compound on human apo A-I and HDL-cholesterol levels correlated with a less pronounced impact on ACO mRNA levels (a threefold increase) suggesting that the level of induction of human apo A-I gene is related to the PPAR activating potency of the fibrate used. Treatment of human primary hepatocytes with fenofibric acid (500 microM) provoked an 83 and 50% increase in apo A-I secretion and mRNA levels, respectively, supporting that a direct action of fibrates on liver human apo A-I production leads to the observed increase in plasma apo A4 and HDL-cholesterol.