LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the major carrier of cholesterol in human plasma, and as such is intimately involved in the process of atherosclerosis. The lipoprotein class comprises a number of distinct subfractions, and is commonly divided into large, intermediate and small sized particles. Small, dense LDLs are held to be particularly atherogenic, since these particles are retained preferentially by the artery wall, are readily oxidized and carry an enzyme believed to have an important role in atherosclerosis, i.e. lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2. Generation of small, dense LDL occurs by intravascular lipoprotein remodelling as a result of disturbances such as Type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, renal disease and pre-eclampsia. The key predisposing factor is the development of hypertriglyceridaemia, in particular elevation in the plasma concentration of large, triacylglycerol-rich VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein). This leads to the formation of slowly metabolized LDL particles (5-day residence time), which are subject to exchange processes that remove cholesteryl ester from the particle core and replace it with triacylglycerol. LDL, so altered, is a potential substrate for hepatic lipase; if the activity of the enzyme is high enough, lipolysis will generate smaller, denser particles. Correction of the dyslipidaemia associated with small, dense LDL is possible using fibrates and statins, and this may contribute to the clinical benefits seen with these drugs. Fibrates act to lower plasma triacylglycerol (VLDL) levels, and so correct the underlying metabolic disturbance. Statins remove VLDL particles via receptor-mediated pathways and reduce the residence time (and hence limit the potential for remodelling) of LDL in the circulation.

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