Human paraoxonase (PON1) is a calcium-dependent esterase closely associated with high density lipoprotein (HDL)-containing apolipoprotein AI (apoAI), which has been shown to confer antioxidant properties to HDL. PON1 has been recently implicated in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Low PON1 activities have been found in familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) and diabetes mellitus. We have undertaken a study of the effect of the lipid-lowering drug simvastatin on serum PON1 activity (in relation to paraoxon and arylesterase activity), on apoAI-containing and apolipoprotein B (apoB)-containing lipoproteins, and on lipid peroxide concentrations in 64 (39 women and 25 men) unrelated FH patients. We have also analyzed the influence of the PON1-192 and PON1-55 genetic polymorphisms on the response of PON1 activity to simvastatin therapy. A venous blood sample for a baseline analysis and another after 4 months of simvastatin therapy at a dosage of 20 mg per day were taken. The major effect of simvastatin on lipid traits was to decrease serum cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and lipid peroxide concentrations by 19.9%, 26.3%, and 37.3%, respectively. There was also a significant decrease in serum apoB, LDL apoB, and triglyceride concentrations (20.5%, 21.1%, and 15.6%, respectively). Conversely, simvastatin had no significant influence on very low density lipoprotein-lipid content, HDL cholesterol, apoAI concentrations, and lipoprotein AI and AI:AII particles. Remarkably, serum PON1 activity toward paraoxon significantly increased during treatment with simvastatin (168. 7+/-100.3 U/L before therapy versus 189.5+/-116.5 U/L after therapy, P:=0.005). Arylesterase activity displayed only a nonsignificant trend to increase after therapy. Whereas PON1 activity levels were significantly lower in FH patients before simvastatin therapy compared with those of 124 normolipidemic subjects (168.7+/-100.3 versus 207.6+/-125.2 U/L, respectively; P:<0.05), this difference disappeared after simvastatin therapy. After simvastatin therapy, a significantly negative correlation between PON1 activity and lipid peroxide concentration was observed (r=-0.35, P:=0.028). The latter also strongly correlated with LDL cholesterol concentration (r=0.64, P:<0.001). Serum PON1 activity levels were significantly lower in the low-activity PON1-192 QQ and PON1-55 M carriers than in R carriers and in LL carriers, respectively. No significant differences were found in the therapeutic response of PON1 activity between genotype groups (8.5% and 11.1% increase for QQ homozygous and R-carrier FH patients, respectively, and 12.7% and 9.5% increase for LL homozygotes and M carriers, respectively). We conclude that simvastatin may have important antioxidant properties through increasing serum PON1 activity, perhaps as a consequence of reducing oxidative stress, by a mechanism independent of apoAI-containing lipoprotein concentration and without the influence of PON1-192 and PON1-55 genetic polymorphisms. Further studies are clearly warranted to clarify the precise mechanism by which simvastatin therapy is associated with increased PON1 activity.