Lipoprotein remnants and dense LDL are associated with features of unstable carotid plaque: a flag for non-HDL-C

Atherosclerosis. 2013 Sep;230(1):106-9. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2013.06.024. Epub 2013 Jul 10.


Objective: We investigated the association between cholesterol across the LDL density range and in the VLDL and IDL particles with the prevalence of inflammatory cells in plaques of patients with severe carotid artery stenosis.

Methods: Forty-five patients undergoing carotid endarterectomy were studied. Plaque specimens were analyzed for cellular composition by immunocytochemistry using monoclonal antibodies. Lipoprotein subclasses were separated by gradient ultracentrifugation.

Results: We found no correlations between LDL-C, HDL-C and plasma triglyceride levels with plaque cellular composition. On the other hand, macrophage content was significantly related to cholesterol in the dense LDL subclasses (r = 0.30, p < 0.01) and in the triglyceride-rich lipoprotein remnants, namely dense VLDL and IDL particles (r = 0.46, p < 0.01). HDL subclasses were not correlated with plaque cellular composition. In a mirror manner, smooth muscle cells were inversely associated with cholesterol levels of the dense LDL subclasses (r = -0.32, p < 0.01 fraction 10; r = -0.26, p < 0.05 fraction 11) while only a non-significant trend was observed with the cholesterol in the VLDL-IDL fractions. These results provide the pathophysiological background to account for the relevance of non-HDL-C as the only lipid parameter, aside LDL density, significantly associated (β = 0.351, p = 0.021) with carotid plaque macrophage content.

Conclusions: We provide evidence that lipoprotein subclasses, specifically cholesterol in the dense LDL fractions and in the triglyceride-rich lipoprotein remnants, significantly affect carotid plaque cellular composition, in particular macrophages content.

Keywords: Carotid plaque; Inflammation; LDL density; Lipoprotein remnants; Macrophages; Non-HDL-C.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / chemistry
  • Carotid Stenosis / blood*
  • Carotid Stenosis / pathology*
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Cholesterol, HDL / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Inflammation
  • Lipoproteins / chemistry
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / blood*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Temperature
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Ultracentrifugation


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Lipoproteins
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Triglycerides
  • Cholesterol