Elevations of plasma total or LDL cholesterol are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Efforts directed at preventing and treating cardiovascular disease have often focused on reducing the levels of these substances in the blood. The Watanabe Heritable Hyperlipidemic Rabbit, which has exceedingly high plasma cholesterol levels resulting from an LDL receptor deficiency, provides an excellent animal model for testing new treatments. A recombinant adenoviral vector containing the rabbit LDL receptor cDNA was administered to Watanabe rabbits. Plasma total cholesterol levels in the treated animals were reduced from 825.5 +/- 69.8 (mean +/- SD) to 247.3 +/- 61.5 mg/dl 6 d after infusion. These animals also demonstrated a 300-400% increase in plasma levels of HDL cholesterol and apo AI 10 d after treatment. As a result, the LDL:HDL ratio exhibited a dramatic decrease. Because only the rabbit LDL receptor gene was used for treatment, the results strongly suggest that the elevations of plasma HDL cholesterol and apo AI were secondary to a reduction in plasma total cholesterol in the treated animals. These results suggest an inverse relationship between plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol levels and imply that reduction of LDL cholesterol levels may have a beneficial effect on plasma HDL cholesterol.