Platelet Activating Factor (PAF) (1-O-alkyl-2-acetyl sn-glycerol 3- phosphocholine) has been characterized by its ability to aggregate platelets at low concentrations and its profound hypotensive effects. There is evidence that the rate of catabolism of this compound in the plasma regulates its concentration. In humans, we and others have shown that a PAF acetylhydrolase is associated with low density lipoprotein (LDL). The LDL particle in the plasma of patients with Tangier disease is quite different from normal as its lipid core appears to be enriched with triacylglycerol. Thus, we have studied the potential of this abnormal lipoprotein to degrade PAF. The assay for PAF acetylhydrolase was based on the release of 3H from PAF that was labelled in the acetate moiety of the sn-2 position. Tangier disease plasma had approximately 3.3-fold higher PAF acetylhydrolase activity (208 +/- 9 nmol/min/mL) than controls (63 +/- 18 nmol/min/mL). This increase was brought about by an increase in the Vmax (400 +/- 40, Tangier disease; 54 +/- 5, controls) and Km for PAF (120 +/- 20 mumol/L, Tangier disease; 28 +/- 4 mumol/L, controls). The activity appears to be a specific acetylhydrolase rather than a phospholipase A2 as preincubation of the substrate with 0 to 100 mumol/L phosphatidylcholine did not affect the amount of [3H] acetate released. The role of PAF, and its degradation by LDL-bound PAF acetylhydrolase in the phenotypic expression of this patient with Tangier disease, is not known. However, this is the first patient so far described who has an increased ability to degrade PAF in the plasma.