The ATP-binding cassette transporters ABCA1 and ABCG1 as well as scavenger receptor BI (SR-BI) mediate the efflux of lipids from macrophages to apolipoprotein A-I (apoA-I) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). We used RNA interference in RAW264.7 macrophages to study the interactions of ABCA1, ABCG1, and SR-BI with lipid-free apoA-I, native and reconstituted HDL with apoA-I:phosphatidylcholine ratios of either 1:40 (rHDL(1:40)) or 1:100 (rHDL(1:100)). Knock-down of ABCA1 inhibits the cellular binding at 4 degrees C of lipid-free apoA-I but not of HDL whereas suppression of ABCG1 or SR-BI reduces the binding of HDL but not lipid-free apoA-I. The degree of lipidation influences the interactions of rHDL with ABCG1 and SR-BI. Knock-down of ABCG1 inhibits more effectively the binding and cholesterol efflux capacities of lipid-poorer rHDL(1:40) whereas knock-down of SR-BI has a more profound effect on the binding and cholesterol efflux capacities of lipid-richer rHDL(1:100). Moreover, knock-down of ABCG1 but not SR-BI interferes with the association of lipid-free apoA-I during prolonged incubation at 37 degrees C. Finally, knock-down of ABCG1 inhibits the binding of initially lipid-free apoA-I which has been preconditioned by cells with high ABCA1 activity. The gained ability of initially lipid-free apoA-I to interact with ABCG1 is accompanied by its shift from electrophoretic pre-beta- to alpha-mobility. Taken together, these data suggest that the interaction of lipid-free apoA-I with ABCA1 generates a particle that immediately interacts with ABCG1 but not with SR-BI. Furthermore, the degree of lipidation influences the interaction of HDL with ABCG1 or SR-BI.