Oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL) exhibits many atherogenic effects, including the promotion of monocyte recruitment to the arterial endothelium and the induction of scavenger receptor expression. However, while atherosclerosis involves chronic inflammation within the arterial intima, it is unclear whether oxLDL alone provides a direct inflammatory stimulus for monocyte-macrophages. Furthermore, oxLDL is not a single, well-defined entity, but has structural and physical properties which vary according to the degree of oxidation. We tested the hypothesis that the biological effects of oxLDL will vary according to its degree of oxidation and that some species of oxLDL will have atherogenic properties, while other species may be responsible for its inflammatory activity. The atherogenic and inflammatory properties of LDL oxidized to predetermined degrees (mild, moderate and extensive oxidation) were investigated in a single system using human monocyte-derived macrophages. Expression of CD36 mRNA was up-regulated by mildly- and moderately-oxLDL, but not highly-oxLDL. The expression of the transcription factor, proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARgamma), which has been proposed to positively regulate the expression of CD36, was increased to the greatest degree by highly-oxLDL. However, the DNA binding activity of PPARgamma was increased only by mildly- and moderately-oxLDL. None of the oxLDL species appeared to be pro-inflammatory towards monocytes, either directly or indirectly through mediators derived from lymphocytes, regardless of the degree of oxidation.