A normal plasma lipoprotein, termed LDL-In, has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of mitogen-driven human lymphocyte proliferation in vitro and of primary antibody responses in the mouse. To determine whether the immunoregulatory activity of LDL-In resided with the protein rather than the lipid constituents of LDL-In, one of the apoproteins of LDL-In, apoprotein E, was isolated from plasma and was analyzed for its inhibitory activity. Apoprotein E, isolated after delipidization of lipoproteins with either methyl ethyl ketone or ethanol and ethyl ether, was immunosuppressive. Furthermore, the characteristics of inhibition of cellular [3H]thymidine uptake by isolated apoprotein E were identical to those characteristics obtained with suppression by LDL-In. Inhibition by apoprotein E and LDL-In required preincubation of the cells with either apoprotein or lipoprotein for 24 hr before exposure of the cells to mitogen for maximal expression of suppressive activity, and this inhibition could not be reversed by removal of non-cell-associated inhibitor before stimulation. Neither apoprotein E or LDL-In was inhibitory when they were added to the cells after mitogen stimulation. The only difference noted between suppression by apoprotein E and LDL-In was that of dose. Compared with quantitative estimates of the apoprotein E content of LDL-In, significantly more isolated apoprotein E was required than lipoprotein-associated E for comparable levels of suppression. The potency of apoprotein E could be increased by adding it to cells in the presence of dimyristoylphosphatidylcholine/cholesterol vesicles. The data suggesting that phospholipid increased the specific activity of apoprotein E by altering its molecular dispersion was obtained from analyses of the interaction of apo E with cells, as well as the plastic culture vessels. The results suggested that the molecular dispersion and perhaps organization of isolated apoprotein E in an aqueous system is critical to its interaction with lymphocytes and subsequently its biological activity.