It has been postulated that hyperlipidemia in the nephrotic syndrome is due to overproduction of lipoproteins and that low colloid osmotic pressure (due to hypoalbuminemia) triggers this. Secretion of very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) by cultured rat hepatocytes has been shown to be inhibited by albumin, globulins, and dextrans, but the effect did not correlate with osmolarity. In the present studies we tested the hypothesis that viscosity rather than osmolarity might be the parameter determining the effectiveness of macromolecules in inhibiting VLDL synthesis and secretion by cultured rat hepatocytes. Synthesis and secretion of VLDL was measured in terms of incorporation of [3H] glycerol into medium triglycerides and also from changes in the mass of secreted VLDL triglycerides and apoproteins. The viscosity of the culture medium was increased by addition of dextran-500, gelatin or methylcellulose MX 880. Synthesis and secretion of VLDL was inhibited in direct proportion to increasing viscosity. At a viscosity of 2, which is about that of normal plasma, VLDL secretion was reduced by 20%. An inhibition of 60-70% in secretion and 30-40% in synthesis of VLDL lipid and protein components was observed at a relative viscosity of approximately 3.7. This viscosity was obtained by addition of any of the following: 3% dextran, 3% gelatin, 0.2% methylcellulose, or a combination of 0.1% methylcellulose plus 2% gelatin. Thus, similar viscosities resulted in similar degrees of inhibition despite differences of up to 16-fold in mass concentration and up to 20-fold in osmolarity.