The role of the receptor-associated protein in controlling the expression of the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein was analysed in brain and in cultured neurons of receptor-associated protein - / - mice. In addition, the effect of two important ligands of lipoprotein receptor-related protein in brain, i.e. apolipoprotein E and amyloid precursor protein, was examined by crossing the receptor-associated protein - / - mice with transgenic mice overexpressing these proteins specifically in neurons. The immunohistochemical localization of lipoprotein receptor-related protein and receptor-associated protein in wild-type mouse brain was demonstrated to be congruent over all structures, including the cortex and hippocampus. In primary hippocampal neurons, lipoprotein receptor-related protein was distributed somatodendritically and receptor-associated protein was concentrated perinuclearly. In hippocampal neurons from receptor-associated protein - / - mice, lipoprotein receptor-related protein was redistributed over the cell body at the expense of the dendrites. In the absence of receptor-associated protein, maturation of lipoprotein receptor-related protein is slow, resulting in accumulation of the uncleaved 600,000 mol. wt precursor. Neither the added expression of apolipoprotein E4 nor that of amyloid precursor protein in cultured neurons influenced the maturation of lipoprotein receptor-related protein, in either the presence or absence of receptor-associated protein. This result shows that receptor-associated protein is not needed to allow co-expression of lipoprotein receptor-related protein with these ligands in neurons. Furthermore, the typical ramified neuronal morphology of cultured primary neurons and the histology and architecture of the brain were normal in receptor-associated protein - / - mice and in all of the double transgenic mice. Finally, we demonstrated that the survival of receptor-associated protein - /- hippocampal neurons was normal and unaffected by the genotype of the glial feeder cells, whether they were derived from wild-type mice or from mice deficient in receptor-associated protein or apolipoprotein E. These results show that, despite the dramatic effect on maturation and cellular localization of lipoprotein receptor-related protein, the absence of receptor-associated protein did not result in any notable physiological, functional or morphological effects.