A predominance of small, dense low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is a major component of an atherogenic lipoprotein phenotype, and a common, but modifiable, source of increased risk for coronary heart disease in the free-living population. While much of the atherogenicity of small, dense LDL is known to arise from its structural properties, the extent to which an increase in the number of small, dense LDL particles (hyper-apoprotein B) contributes to this risk of coronary heart disease is currently unknown. This study reports a method for the recruitment of free-living individuals with an atherogenic lipoprotein phenotype for a fish-oil intervention trial, and critically evaluates the relationship between LDL particle number and the predominance of small, dense LDL. In this group, volunteers were selected through local general practices on the basis of a moderately raised plasma triacylglycerol (triglyceride) level (> 1.5 mmol/l) and a low concentration of high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (< 1.1 mmol/l). The screening of LDL subclasses revealed a predominance of small, dense LDL (LDL subclass pattern B) in 62% of the cohort. As expected, subjects with LDL subclass pattern B were characterized by higher plasma triacylglycerol and lower high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (< 1.1 mmol/l) levels and, less predictably, by lower LDL cholesterol and apoprotein B levels (P < 0.05; LDL subclass A compared with subclass B). While hyper-apoprotein B was detected in only five subjects, the relative percentage of small, dense LDL-III in subjects with subclass B showed an inverse relationship with LDL apoprotein B (r =-0.57; P < 0.001), identifying a subset of individuals with plasma triacylglycerol above 2.5 mmol/l and a low concentration of LDL almost exclusively in a small and dense form. These findings indicate that a predominance of small, dense LDL and hyper-apoprotein B do not always co-exist in free-living groups. Moreover, if coronary risk increases with increasing LDL particle number, these results imply that the risk arising from a predominance of small, dense LDL may actually be reduced in certain cases when plasma triacylglycerol exceeds 2.5 mmol/l.

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