A monoclonal antibody-based direct binding enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for apoprotein (apo) B-100 has been developed for use as a reference method. The assay uses the two well-characterized monoclonal antibodies, MB24 and MB47. MB47, which recognizes an epitope at the low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor-binding domain of apoB and is specific for apoB-100, is bound to the microtiter plate as the capture antibody. MB24, which binds an epitope in the amino terminal half of the apoB-100 and identifies both apoB-100 and apoB-48, is conjugated to horseradish peroxidase and is utilized as the indicating antibody. The assay was calibrated with LDL (d 1.030-1.050 g/ml) and the LDL protein was determined by a sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) Lowry procedure. The working range of the assay is 0.25-1.25 micrograms/ml. Optimal dilution of whole plasma was found to be 1:2000. In the assay, MB47 bound approximately 97% of the apoB in all low density lipoprotein, and greater than 90% of the apoB in the majority of very low density lipoprotein preparations. Small dense LDL from subjects with familial combined hyperlipidemia (FCHL) and large bouyant LDL from subjects with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) exhibited binding properties similar to LDL from healthy normolipidemic subjects when tested in the reference ELISA. The intra- and interassay coefficients of variation averaged 2.5% and 6.0%, respectively. Plasma B-100 levels were not influenced by freezing and thawing or storage at 4 degrees C for up to 3 weeks or storage at -70 degrees C for up to 11 months. Excellent agreement was obtained between the reference ELISA and a polyclonal RIA which measures total apoB (r = 0.93, n = 105, mean ELISA B-100 value = 100 mg/dl, mean RIA value = 101 mg/dl, Sy = 9.6). Reference ELISA B-100 values of samples pretreated with bacterial lipase were not significantly increased in most samples with plasma triglyceride levels below 600 mg/dl. To help reduce the large among-laboratories variability of apoB measurements, we recommend that this candidate reference direct binding ELISA be used to assign apoB target values to apoB reference pools.