The three types of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR), termed alpha, delta (or beta), and gamma, belong to the nuclear receptor superfamily. Although peroxisome proliferators, including fibrates and fatty acids, activate the transcriptional activity of these receptors, only prostaglandin J2 derivatives have been identified as natural ligands of the PPAR gamma subtype that also binds thiazolidinedione antidiabetic agents with high affinity. PPARs heterodimerize with retinoic X receptor (RXR) and alter the transcription of target genes after binding to response elements or PPREs, consisting of a direct repeat of the nuclear receptor hexameric DNA recognition motif (PuGGTCA) spaced by 1 nucleotide (DR-1). Upon activation by fatty acids (FAs) and drugs that affect lipid metabolism, PPARs control the expression of genes implicated in intra- and extracellular lipid metabolism, most notably those involved in peroxisomal beta-oxidation. PPARs partially mediate the inductive effects of fibrates and fatty acids on high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels by regulating the transcription of the major HDL apolipoproteins, apoA-I and apoA-II. The hypotriglyceridemic action of fibrates and certain fatty acids also involves PPAR and is constituted of: 1) increased hydrolysis of plasma triglycerides due to induction of LPL and reduction of apoC-III expression; 2) stimulation of cellular fatty acid uptake and conversion to acyl-CoA derivatives due to increased expression of genes for fatty acid transport protein and acyl-CoA synthetase; 3) increased peroxisomal and mitochondrial beta-oxidation; and 4) decreased synthesis of fatty acids and triglycerides and decreased production of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). Hence, both enhanced catabolism of triglyceride-rich particles and reduced secretion of VLDL particles contribute to the hypolipidemic effect of fibrates and fatty acids. Finally, PPARs appear to be involved in differentiation processes because activation of PPAR gamma 2 triggers adipocyte differentiation and stimulates expression of several genes critical to adipogenesis. It is suggested that PPARs are key messengers responsible for the translation of nutritional and pharmacological stimuli into changes in gene expression and differentiation pathways.