Traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) predict about 50% of the risk of developing CAD. The Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III has defined emerging risk factors for CAD, including small, dense low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Small, dense LDL is often accompanied by increased triglycerides (TGs) and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL). An increased number of small, dense LDL particles is often missed when the LDL cholesterol level is normal or borderline elevated. Small, dense LDL particles are present in families with premature CAD and hyperapobetalipoproteinemia, familial combined hyperlipidemia, LDL subclass pattern B, familial dyslipidemic hypertension, and syndrome X. The metabolic syndrome, as defined by ATP III, incorporates a number of the components of these syndromes, including insulin resistance and intra-abdominal fat. Subclinical inflammation and elevated procoagulants also appear to be part of this atherogenic syndrome. Overproduction of very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs) by the liver and increased secretion of large, apolipoprotein (apo) B-100-containing VLDL is the primary metabolic characteristic of most of these patients. The TG in VLDL is hydrolyzed by lipoprotein lipase (LPL) which produces intermediate-density lipoprotein. The TG in intermediate-density lipoprotein is hydrolyzed further, resulting in the generation of LDL. The cholesterol esters in LDL are exchanged for TG in VLDL by the cholesterol ester tranfer proteins, followed by hydrolysis of TG in LDL by hepatic lipase which produces small, dense LDL. Cholesterol ester transfer protein mediates a similar lipid exchange between VLDL and HDL, producing a cholesterol ester-poor HDL. In adipocytes, reduced fatty acid trapping and retention by adipose tissue may result from a primary defect in the incorporation of free fatty acids into TGs. Alternatively, insulin resistance may promote reduced retention of free fatty acids by adipocytes. Both these abnormalities lead to increased levels of free fatty acids in plasma, increased flux of free fatty acids back to the liver, enhanced production of TGs, decreased proteolysis of apo B-100, and increased VLDL production. Decreased removal of postprandial TGs often accompanies these metabolic abnormalities. Genes regulating the expression of the major players in this metabolic cascade, such as LPL, cholesterol ester transfer protein, and hepatic lipase, can modulate the expression of small, dense LDL but these are not the major defects. New candidates for major gene effects have been identified on chromosome 1. Regardless of their fundamental causes, small, dense LDL (compared with normal LDL) particles have a prolonged residence time in plasma, are more susceptible to oxidation because of decreased interaction with the LDL receptor, and enter the arterial wall more easily, where they are retained more readily. Small, dense LDL promotes endothelial dysfunction and enhanced production of procoagulants by endothelial cells. Both in animal models of atherosclerosis and in most human epidemiologic studies and clinical trials, small, dense LDL (particularly when present in increased numbers) appears more atherogenic than normal LDL. Treatment of patients with small, dense LDL particles (particularly when accompanied by low HDL and hypertriglyceridemia) often requires the use of combined lipid-altering drugs to decrease the number of particles and to convert them to larger, more buoyant LDL. The next critical step in further reduction of CAD will be the correct diagnosis and treatment of patients with small, dense LDL and the dyslipidemia that accompanies it.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine