PON1 (paraoxonase-1) is an HDL (high-density lipoprotein)-associated enzyme capable of hydrolysing diverse substrates from OP (organophosphate) toxins to oxidized phospholipids. As such, it has been linked with both the prevention of OP poisoning and inhibition of atherosclerosis initiated by oxidatively modified LDL (low-density lipoprotein). Mice deficient in PON1 are more susceptible to OP poisoning and oxidative stress and more prone to develop atherosclerosis than their wild-type siblings. There are a number of polymorphisms in the PON1 gene which affect serum PON1 activity and concentration. Many (but not all) studies in human populations have suggested that these polymorphisms may be a risk factor for atherosclerosis. The serum concentration of PON1 across the general population is highly variable and there is some debate as to whether genotype or phenotype (i.e. the quantity or quality of the enzyme) is most accurately associated with risk of disease development. What is clear is that factors influencing serum levels of PON1, be they genetic or environmental, will, in turn, affect the capacity of HDL to protect LDL from oxidation and, consequently, may be linked to atherosclerosis. This review will focus on mechanisms which determine the serum concentration of PON1, including gene expression and genetic polymorphisms, protein secretion and association with HDL, pharmacological and environmental factors.

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