The role of dietary oxidized cholesterol and oxidized fatty acids in the development of atherosclerosis

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Nov;49(11):1075-82. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200500063.


The etiology of atherosclerosis is complex and multifactorial but there is extensive evidence indicating that oxidized lipoproteins may play a key role. At present, the site and mechanism by which lipoproteins are oxidized are not resolved, and it is not clear if oxidized lipoproteins form locally in the artery wall and/or are sequestered in atherosclerotic lesions following the uptake of circulating oxidized lipoproteins. We have been focusing our studies on demonstrating that such potentially atherogenic oxidized lipoproteins in the circulation are at least partially derived from oxidized lipids in the diet. Thus, the purpose of our work has been to determine in humans whether oxidized dietary oxidized fats such as oxidized fatty acids and oxidized cholesterol are absorbed and contribute to the pool of oxidized lipids in circulating lipoproteins. When a meal containing oxidized linoleic acid was fed to normal subjects, oxidized fatty acids were found only in the postprandial chylomicron/chylomicron remnants (CM/RM) which were cleared from circulation within 8 h. No oxidized fatty acids were detected in low density lipoprotein (LDL) or high density lipoprotein (HDL) fractions at any time. However, when alpha-epoxy cholesterol was fed to human subjects, alpha-epoxy cholesterol in serum was found in CM/RM and also in endogenous very low density lipoprotein, LDL, and HDL and remained in the circulation for 72 h. In vitro incubation of the CM/RM fraction containing alpha-epoxy cholesterol with human LDL and HDL that did not contain alpha-epoxy cholesterol resulted in a rapid transfer of oxidized cholesterol from CM/RM to both LDL and HDL. We have suggested that cholesteryl ester transfer protein is mediating the transfer. Thus, alpha-epoxy cholesterol in the diet is incorporated into CM/RM fraction and then transferred to LDL and HDL contributing to lipoprotein oxidation. We hypothesize that diet-derived oxidized fatty acids in chylomicron remnants and oxidized cholesterol in remnants and LDL accelerate atherosclerosis by increasing oxidized lipid levels in circulating LDL and chylomicron remnants. This hypothesis is supported by our feeding experiments in animals. When rabbits were fed oxidized fatty acids or oxidized cholesterol, the fatty streak lesions in the aorta were increased by 100%. Moreover, dietary oxidized cholesterol significantly increased aortic lesions in apo-E and LDL receptor-deficient mice. A typical Western diet is rich in oxidized fats and therefore could contribute to the increased arterial atherosclerosis in our population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / etiology*
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Chylomicrons / blood
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Fatty Acids / adverse effects*
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Humans
  • Linoleic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Lipids / blood
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / blood
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / blood
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Chylomicrons
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Lipids
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Linoleic Acid