Background: Myopathy, probably caused by 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibition in skeletal muscle, rarely occurs in patients taking statins. This study was designed to assess the effect of high-dose statin treatment on cholesterol and ubiquinone metabolism and mitochondrial function in human skeletal muscle.
Methods: Forty-eight patients with hypercholesterolemia (33 men and 15 women) were randomly assigned to receive 80 mg/d of simvastatin (n = 16), 40 mg/d of atorvastatin (n = 16), or placebo (n = 16) for 8 weeks. Plasma samples and muscle biopsy specimens were obtained at baseline and at the end of the follow-up.
Results: The ratio of plasma lathosterol to cholesterol, a marker of endogenous cholesterol synthesis, decreased significantly by 66% in both statin groups. Muscle campesterol concentrations increased from 21.1 +/- 7.1 nmol/g to 41.2 +/- 27.0 nmol/g in the simvastatin group and from 22.6 +/- 8.6 nmol/g to 40.0 +/- 18.7 nmol/g in the atorvastatin group (P = .005, repeated-measurements ANOVA). The muscle ubiquinone concentration was reduced significantly from 39.7 +/- 13.6 nmol/g to 26.4 +/- 7.9 nmol/g (P = .031, repeated-measurements ANOVA) in the simvastatin group, but no reduction was observed in the atorvastatin or placebo group. Respiratory chain enzyme activities were assessed in 6 patients taking simvastatin with markedly reduced muscle ubiquinone and in matched subjects selected from the atorvastatin (n = 6) and placebo (n = 6) groups. Respiratory chain enzyme and citrate synthase activities were reduced in the patients taking simvastatin.
Conclusions: High-dose statin treatment leads to changes in the skeletal muscle sterol metabolism. Furthermore, aggressive statin treatment may affect mitochondrial volume.