Epidemiological and transgenic animal studies have implicated apo C-III as a major determinant of plasma triglyceride metabolism. Since fibrates are very efficient in lowering triglycerides, it was investigated whether fibrates regulate apo C-III gene expression. Different fibrates lowered rat liver apo C-III mRNA levels up to 90% in a dose- and time-dependent manner, whereas intestinal apo C-III mRNA remained constant. This decrease in liver apo C-III mRNA was rapid (1 d) and reversible, since it was restored to control levels within 1 wk after cessation of treatment. In addition, fenofibrate treatment abolished the developmental rise of hepatic apo C-III mRNA observed during the suckling-weaning period. Administration of fibrates to rats induced liver and intestinal expression of the acyl CoA oxidase gene, the rate-limiting enzyme for peroxisomal beta-oxidation of fatty acids. In primary cultures of rat and human hepatocytes, fenofibric acid lowered apo C-III mRNA in a time- and dose-dependent manner. This reduction in apo C-III mRNA levels was accompanied by a decreased secretion of apo C-III in the culture medium of human hepatocytes. In rat hepatocytes fenofibric acid induced acyl CoA oxidase gene expression, whereas acyl CoA oxidase mRNA remained unchanged in human hepatocytes. Nuclear run-on and transient transfection experiments of a reporter construct driven by the human apo C-III gene promoter indicated that fibrates downregulate apo C-III gene expression at the transcriptional level. In conclusion, these studies demonstrate that fibrates decrease rat and human liver apo C-III gene expression. In humans the mechanisms appears to be independent of the induction of peroxisomal enzymes. This downregulation of liver apo C-III gene expression by fibrates may contribute to the hypotriglyceridemic action of these drugs.