Anti-atherosclerotic effects of vitamin E--myth or reality?

J Cell Mol Med. Jan-Mar 2004;8(1):59-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1582-4934.2004.tb00260.x.


Atherosclerosis and its complications such as coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction and stroke are the leading causes of death in the developed world. High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and a diet high in cholesterol and lipids clearly increase the likelihood of premature atherosclerosis, albeit other factors, such as the individual genetic makeup, may play an additional role. Several epidemiological studies and intervention trials have been performed with vitamin E, and some of them showed that it prevents atherosclerosis. For a long time, vitamin E was assumed to act by decreasing the oxidation of LDL, a key step in atherosclerosis initiation. However, at the cellular level, vitamin E acts by inhibition of smooth muscle cell proliferation, platelet aggregation, monocyte adhesion, oxLDL uptake and cytokine production, all reactions implied in the progression of atherosclerosis. Recent research revealed that these effects are not the result of the antioxidant activity of vitamin E, but rather of precise molecular actions of this compound. It is assumed that specific interactions of vitamin E with enzymes and proteins are at the basis of its non-antioxidant effects. Vitamin E influences the activity of several enzymes (e.g. PKC, PP2A, COX-2, 5-lipooxygenase, nitric oxide synthase, NADPH-oxidase, superoxide dismutase, phopholipase A2) and modulates the expression of genes that are involved in atherosclerosis (e.g. scavenger receptors, integrins, selectins, cytokines, cyclins). These interactions promise to reveal the biological properties of vitamin E and allow designing better strategies for the protection against atherosclerosis progression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis
  • Arteriosclerosis / pathology*
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Lipoxygenase Inhibitors
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases / metabolism
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases
  • Protein Kinase C / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Vitamin E / metabolism
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology*
  • alpha-Tocopherol / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors
  • Cyclooxygenase Inhibitors
  • Isoenzymes
  • Lipoxygenase Inhibitors
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Vitamin E
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • PTGS2 protein, human
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Protein Kinase C
  • Phosphoprotein Phosphatases
  • alpha-Tocopherol