Insulin resistance, small LDL particles, and risk for atherosclerotic disease

Curr Vasc Pharmacol. 2014;12(4):653-7. doi: 10.2174/15701611113119990125.


There is a global epidemic of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus. Insulin resistance (IR) is etiologic for both metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus. IR induces a broad range of toxic systemic effects, including dyslipidemia, hypertension, hyperglycemia, increased production of advanced glycosylation end products, increased inflammatory tone, as well as a prothrombotic and pro-oxidative state. Patients with IR are highly vulnerable to the development of accelerated atherosclerosis as well its clinical sequelae, including coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction, carotid artery disease and ischemic stroke, peripheral arterial disease and claudication/lower extremity amputation, and coronary mortality. Among the most important risk factors patients afflicted with IR develop is the so-called atherogenic lipid triad: large numbers of small, dense low-density lipoprotein (sdLDL) particles, hypertriglyceridemia, and low serum concentrations of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Though controversial, much recent evidence suggests that the formation of sdLDL particles in the setting of IR is an important metabolic transition. Some studies suggest that these smaller particles are more atherogenic than their larger, more buoyant counterparts. At least part of the explanation for the apparent augmented atherogenicity of small LDL particles is their reduced systemic clearance by the LDL receptor, increased vulnerability to oxidation rendering them more apt for scavenging by macrophages, and possible increased flux into the subendothelial space of arterial walls. Numerous small studies suggest that sdLDL is highly correlated with cardiovascular events. Cardiovascular medicine is in need of a large prospective, randomized study that would more definitively investigate the impact of small, dense LDL (sdLDL) on risk for cardiovascular disease and whether therapeutic interventions designed to specifically reduce the burden of sdLDL are associated with reductions in cardiovascular events over and above that seen with LDL-C reduction per se.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / etiology*
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood*
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / complications*
  • Hyperlipidemias / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / blood
  • Metabolic Syndrome / complications*
  • Risk Factors


  • Cholesterol, LDL