To study the role of carboxyl ester lipase (CEL) in hepatic retinoid (vitamin A) metabolism, we investigated uptake and hydrolysis of chylomicron (CM)-retinyl esters (RE) by rat hepatoma (McArdle-RH7777) cells stably transfected with a rat CEL cDNA. We also studied tissue uptake of CM-RE in CEL-deficient mice generated by targeted disruption of the CEL gene. CEL- transfected cells secreted active enzyme into the medium. However, both control and CEL-transfected cells accumulated exogenously added CM-RE or CM remnant (CMR)-derived RE in equal amounts. Serum clearance of intravenously injected CM-RE and cholesteryl ester were not different between wild-type and CEL-deficient mice. Also, the uptake of the two compounds by the liver and other tissues did not differ. These data indicate that the lack of CEL expression does not affect the uptake of dietary CM-RE by the liver or other tissues. Moreover, the percentage of retinol formed in the liver after CM-RE uptake, the levels of retinol and retinol-binding protein in serum, and retinoid levels in various tissues did not differ, indicating that CEL deficiency does not affect hepatic retinoid metabolism and retinoid distribution throughout the body. Surprisingly, in both pancreas and liver of wild-type, heterozygous, and homozygous CEL-deficient mice, the levels of bile salt-dependent retinyl ester hydrolase (REH) activity were similar. This indicates that in the mouse pancreas and liver an REH enzyme activity, active in the presence of bile salt and distinct from CEL, is present, compatible with the results from our accompanying paper that the intestinal processing and absorption of RE were unimpaired in CEL-deficient mice.