The effects of spirulina and its chromophore phycocyanin, both without bound Se or selenium-enriched, were studied on plasma cholesterol, early atherosclerosis, cardiac production of superoxide anions, and NAD(P)H oxidase expression in hamsters. Forty hamsters were divided into 5 groups of 8 and fed an atherogenic diet for 12 weeks. They received by gavage either 7.14 mL/(kg day) phycocyanin (PC), Se-rich phycocyanin (SePC), spirulina (SP) or Se-rich spirulina (SeSP) in water, or water as control. SeSP and SePC supplied 0.4 microg of Se per 100 g body weight. Plasma cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol concentrations were lower in group consuming SePC. HDL-cholesterol was never affected. SePC significantly increased plasma antioxidant capacity by 42% compared with controls. A sparing effect in liver glutathione peroxidase (87% on average) and superoxide dismutase (56% on average) activity was observed for all the groups compared to controls. Aortic fatty streak area was significantly reduced in the experimental groups, especially by PC (82%) and SePC (85%). Cardiac production of superoxide anion significantly decreased by approximately 46-76% in the four experimental groups and especially in SePC group (76%). The expression of p22phox subunit of NAD(P)H oxidase decreased by 34% after consumption of SePC. The results indicate that chronic consumption of Se-rich spirulina phycocyanin powerfully prevents the development of atherosclerosis. The underlying mechanism is related mainly to inhibiting pro-oxidant factors and at a lesser extent improving the serum lipid profile.