The one disease associated with the greatest morbidity and mortality in industrialized countries is coronary heart disease (CHD). High density lipoprotein (HDL) is one of the most important independent protective factors for the arteriosclerosis which underlies CHD. Paraoxonase 1 (PON1) is an enzyme that confers antioxidant properties to HDL. In vitro, PON1 hydrolyzes a large variety of endogenous or exogenous substrates, some of which are clearly involved in the progression of arteriosclerosis. A close relationship between PON1 deficiency and accelerated progression of arteriosclerosis has been found in animal models. Moreover, PON1 activity is reduced in high oxidative stress diseases such as CHD, dyslipoproteinemias, inflammatory processes, diabetes and certain neuropathies. Reduced PON1 enzyme activity is associated with several arteriosclerosis-related diseases. The most thoroughly studied genetic variant of PON1 is PON1-192, in which the R allele is associated with elevated paraoxonase activity. This allele, present in 24.8% of the Italian population, is found in up to 78.9% of the population of Ecuadorian Cayapa Indians. A metaanalysis of studies on the relationship between CHD and the R allele showed the latter to be an independent risk factor for this disease, with an odds ratio of 1.18 (95% confidence interval, 1.10-1.27). The PON1 enzyme is a potentially useful new qualitative indicator in addition to the well known reverse cholesterol transport capacity associated with high plasma levels of HDL.