The relationship of two apolipoprotein (apo) E gene polymorphisms and coronary heart disease (CHD) was investigated in 118 Finnish families with premature CHD and in 110 healthy control subjects. Affected siblings and probands with premature CHD had higher frequencies of the T allele of the -219G/T promoter polymorphism and the epsilon 4 allele (genotypes epsilon 4/3 or epsilon 4/4) of the apo epsilon 2/epsilon 3/ epsilon 4 polymorphism than those of healthy control subjects. Additionally, when the two apo E gene polymorphisms were combined, affected siblings and probands had a higher frequency of the -219T allele and the epsilon 4 allele combinations than did healthy controls. The -219T and the epsilon 4 alleles both separately and together were associated with higher levels of 2-h glucose in an oral glucose tolerance test. These results indicate that the two polymorphisms of the apo E gene have similar effects on the risk of coronary atherosclerosis in families with premature CHD. This risk was not explained by the effect of apo E gene polymorphisms on cholesterol metabolism, but their effect on cardiovascular risk factor clustering with insulin resistance may be of importance. We conclude that in addition to the epsilon 4 allele, also the -219G/T promoter polymorphism of the apo E gene is associated with early onset CHD.