Hamster hepatocytes, like human hepatocytes, secrete triacylglycerol (TAG) as very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) in association with apolipoprotein (apo) B100, whereas in the rat, TAG is secreted predominantly in association with apoB48. Nevertheless, in hepatocytes from both species, a minimum of between 60% and 70% [69. 1+/-1.4% (hamster), 60.6+/-2.5% (rat)] of the VLDL TAG was secreted following lipolysis and re-esterification of intracellular TAG. The fractional rates of hepatocellular TAG turnover (lipolysis and re-esterification) were similar in both species [1.83+/-0.28 pools/24 h (hamster), 1.39+/-0.23 pools/24 h (rat)]. Comparison of the relative changes in the 3H and 14C specific radioactivities of the VLDL and cellular TAG, pre-labelled with [3H]glycerol and [4C]oleate, suggested that fatty acids released by lipolysis either were recruited directly into a VLDL assembly pool or were recycled to the cellular pool following re-esterification. Recycling in the hamster was somewhat greater than in the rat (66.1+/-5.7% versus 53. 7+/-4.8% of TAG lipolysed respectively). Similarly, a larger proportion of newly synthesized TAG was retained within the cell, rather than secreted as VLDL, in the hamster compared with the rat (37.9+/-2.8% versus 20+/-3.8%, P<0.01). These factors may have contributed to the somewhat lower rate of VLDL TAG secretion in the hamster hepatocytes compared with those from the rat (43.3+/-4.2 versus 96.4+/-3.4 microg/24 h per mg of cell protein). Rat hepatocytes were more sensitive to inhibition of VLDL secretion by insulin than were those from hamster. In neither case did insulin affect total or fractional TAG turnover. The results suggest that assembly of both apoB100 VLDL and apoB48 VLDL is associated with efficient intracellular TAG lipolysis.