In addition to lowering cholesterol, statins may alter endothelial release of the vasodilator NO and harmful superoxide free radicals. Statins also reduce cholesterol intermediates including isoprenoids. These are important for post-translational modification of substances including the GTPases Rho and Rac. By altering the membrane association of these molecules, statins affect intracellular positioning and hence activity of a multitude of substances. These include eNOS (endothelial NO synthase), which produces NO (inhibited by Rho), and NADPH oxidase, which produces superoxide (dependent on Rac). Statins may improve endothelial function by enhancing production of NO while decreasing superoxide production. A total of 40 hypercholesterolaemic patients were randomized to treatment with either atorvastatin or placebo; 20 normolipidaemic patients were also studied. Platelet nitrite, NO and superoxide were examined as was the cellular distribution of the GTPases Rho and Rac at baseline and after 8 weeks of treatment. Following atorvastatin therapy, platelet NO was increased (3.2 pmol/108 platelets) and superoxide output was attenuated [−3.4 pmol·min−1·(108 platelets)−1] when compared with placebo. The detection of both Rho and Rac was significantly reduced in the membranes of platelets, implying reduced activity. In conclusion, the results of the present study show altered NO/superoxide production following statin therapy. A potential mechanism for this is the change in the distribution of intracellular GTPases, which was considered to be secondary to decreases in isoprenoid intermediates, suggesting that the activity of the former had been affected by atorvastatin.

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