, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 638-649

The physiology of lipoproteins

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Abstract

The seminal studies of Brown and Goldstein (Science 1986;232:34-47) coupled with the findings of the Framingham study revolutionized our understanding of the metabolic basis for vascular disease. These studies led to the widespread use of the coronary risk lipid profile, which uses the total cholesterol/high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio (or low-density lipoprotein [LDL]/HDL ratio) in predicting risk for vascular disease and as a tool for therapeutic management of patients at risk for vascular disease. However, although these methods are predictive of coronary artery disease (CAD) in general, it is also well known that the extent of occlusive disease and CAD varies greatly between individuals with similar cholesterol and HDL lipid profiles. For this reason, the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel revised these guidelines and now recommends monitoring LDL and HDL cholesterol in the context of coronary heart disease risk factors and “risk equivalents. ” In addition, more recent findings indicate that specific alterations in individual lipoprotein subclasses may account for the variations in CAD in subjects with similar lipid profiles. For example, a preponderance of small, dense LDL particles correlates with a marked increase in risk for myocardial infarction independent of LDL levels. In particular, the association of small, dense LDL with elevated triglycerides (large, less dense VLDL) and reduced HDL has been defined as the atherogenic lipoprotein profile, and the key metabolic defect driving this profile may be elevated levels of triglycerides, specifically large, less dense VLDL. In an attempt to explain the physiologic basis for lipoprotein variations, this review describes the basic metabolic scheme underlying the traditional view of lipoprotein metabolism and physiology. It then examines the identity and role of the various lipoprotein subfractions in an attempt to distill a working model of how lipoprotein abnormalities might account for vascular disease in general and the metabolic syndrome in particular. (J Nucl Cardiol 2002;9:638-49.)

Support for this project was provided in part by National Institutes of Health grant HL-66273 and a grant from Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company.