Apolipoprotein J (apo J) is a newly identified member of a growing family of proteins associated with various lipoprotein particles. Apo J is a glycoprotein which exists in the plasma associated with high-density lipoprotein subfractions which also contain apo A-I and cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP). We have investigated the possible existence of genetic polymorphism at the apo J structural locus and have evaluated its role in lipid metabolism. By employing isoelectric focusing and immunoblotting techniques, we have screened plasma or serum samples from six population groups: U.S. whites, Amerindians, Eskimos, New Guineans, U.S. blacks, and Nigerian blacks. Apo J revealed a common two-allele polymorphism only in populations with African ancestry and was found to be monomorphic in all other population groups tested. The genetic basis of the two alleles designated--APO J*1 and APO J*2, at a single structural locus, apo J-- was confirmed in a large number of segregating families. In the U.S. blacks, the frequencies of the APO J*1 and APO J*2 alleles were .76 and .24, respectively, and in the Nigerian blacks these values were .72 and .28, respectively. In addition, a single example of a rare allele designated APO J*3 was also encountered in the U.S. black sample. In Nigerian blacks, the apo J polymorphism's impact on seven quantitative lipid traits--total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, HDL3-cholesterol, HDL2-cholesterol, VLDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides--was investigated. No significant impact of the apo J polymorphism was observed for any of these lipid traits.