Recently developed molecular probes for human apolipoprotein (apo) genes have been used to study the specificity of human tissue expression of the apo A-I, apo C-II, apo C-III, and apo E genes. We have found that apo E mRNA was present in all tissues examined. On the basis of total RNA concentration the relative abundance of apo E mRNA expressed as a percentage of the liver value is as follows: adrenal gland and macrophages, 74-100%; gonads and kidney, 12-15%; spleen, brain, thymus, ovaries, intestine, and pancreas, 3-9%; heart, 1.5%; stomach, striated muscle, and lung, <1%. The relative concentration of apo E mRNA in cultures of human peripheral blood monocyte-macrophages increases dramatically as a function of time in culture, and after 5 days, it compares to that of liver. The human tissues shown to synthesize apo E mRNA were also examined for their ability to synthesize apo A-I, apo C-II, and apo C-III mRNA. The relative abundance of apo A-I, apo C-III, and apo C-II mRNA expressed as a percentage of the liver value is as follows: apo A-I, intestine, 50%; apo A-I, pancreas and gonads, 12%; apo A-I, kidney, 4%; apo A-I, adrenal, 2.5%; apo A-I, ovaries and heart, 1%; apo A-I, stomach and thymus, <1%; apo C-III, intestine, 62%; apo C-III, pancreas, 7%; apo C-II, intestine, 3%; apo C-II, pancreas, <1%. The knowledge of tissue specificities in the synthesis of apolipoproteins is important for our understanding of the regulation of apolipoproteins and lipoprotein metabolism.