1. We have recently reported that a short incubation (60 min) in vitro of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) 3 with human polymorphonuclear leucocytes (PMNs) leads to a proteolytic cleavage of apolipoprotein (apo) AII and to a change in the distribution of apo AI isoforms [Cogny, Paul, Atger, Soni and Moatti (1994) Eur. J. Biochem. 222, 965–973]. Since PMNs have been observed to be present in the earliest atherosclerotic lesions for a number of days, we investigated the HDL3 physicochemical modifications induced by in vitro interaction for a long period of time (24 h) with PMNs and the consequences of the changes on the ability of HDL3 to remove cholesterol from cells. 2. The stimulated PMN modification of HDL3 over 24 h resulted in a partial loss of protein with no variation in lipid molar ratio and a loss of 50% of HDL α-tocopherol content. The decrease in total protein was due first to a complete degradation of apo AII, and secondly to a partial loss of apo AI. The apo AI remaining on the particles was in part hydrolysed and the apo AI-1 isoform was completely shifted to the apo AI-2 isoform. These apo changes were accompanied by a displacement of the native HDL3 apparent size toward predominantly larger particles. 3. The ability of PMN-modified HDL3 to remove 3H-labelled free cholesterol from cells was measured in two cell lines: Fu5AH rat hepatoma cells and J774 mouse macrophages. HDL3 which had only a limited contact with PMNs (60 min) showed only a small non-significant reduction in the efficiency of cholesterol efflux. On the other hand, compared with native HDL3, HDL3 modified by PMNs for 24 h had a markedly reduced ability to remove cholesterol from cells, regardless of the type of cell. 4. The results suggest that PMN-modified HDL3, if occurring in vivo, could contribute to acceleration of the atherogenic process by decreasing the cholesterol efflux from cells.

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