Plasma high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels bear a strong independent inverse relationship with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Although HDL has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, vasodilating and anti-thrombotic properties, the central anti-atherogenic activity of HDL is likely to be its ability to remove cholesterol and oxysterols from macrophage foam cells, smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells in the arterial wall. To some extent, the pleotropic athero-protective properties of HDL may be related to its ability to promote sterol and oxysterol efflux from arterial wall cells, as well as to detoxify oxidized phospholipids. In cholesterol-loaded macrophages, activation of liver X receptors (LXRs) leads to increased expression of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) binding cassetter transporter (ABCA1), ATP binding cassetter transporter gene (ABCG1) and apoE and promotes cholesterol efflux. ABCA1 stimulates cholesterol efflux to lipid-poor apolipoproteins, whilst ABCG1 promotes efflux of cholesterol and oxysterols to HDL. Despite some recent setbacks in the clinical arena, there is still intense interest in therapeutically targeting HDL and macrophage cholesterol efflux pathways, via treatments with niacin, cholesterol ester transfer protein inhibitors, LXR activators and infusions of apoA-1, phospholipids and peptides.