Increased atherosclerosis risk in hyperlipidemic patients may be a result of the enhanced oxidizability of their plasma lipoproteins. We have previously shown that hypocholesterolemic drug therapy, including the 3-hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl CoenzymeA (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors, and the hypotriglyceridemic drug bezafibrate, significantly reduced the enhanced susceptibility to oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL) isolated from hyperlipidemic patients. Although this antioxidative effect could not be obtained in vitro with all of these drugs, the active drug metabolites, which are formed in vivo, could affect lipoprotein oxidizability. We thus sought to analyze the effect of atorvastatin and gemfibrozil, as well as specific hydroxylated metabolites, on the susceptibility of LDL, very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), and high density lipoprotein (HDL) to oxidation. LDL oxidation induced by either copper ions (10 microM CuSO4), by the free radical generator system 2'-2'-azobis 2-amidino propane hydrochloride (5 mM AAPH), or by the J-774A.1 macrophage-like cell line, was not inhibited by the parent forms of atorvastatin or gemfibrozil, but was substantially inhibited (57-97%), in a concentration-dependent manner, by pharmacological concentrations of the o-hydroxy and the p-hydroxy metabolites of atorvastatin, as well as by the p-hydroxy metabolite (metabolite I) of gemfibrozil. On using the atorvastatin o-hydroxy metabolite and gemfibrozil metabolite I in combination an additive inhibitory effect on LDL oxidizability was found. Similar inhibitory effects (37-96%) of the above metabolites were obtained for the susceptibility of VLDL and HDL to oxidation in the oxidation systems outlined above. The inhibitory effects of these metabolites on LDL, VLDL, and HDL oxidation could be related to their free radical scavenging activity, as well as (mainly for the gemfibrozil metabolite I) to their metal ion chelation capacities. In addition, inhibition of HDL oxidation was associated with the preservation of HDL-associated paraoxonase activity. We conclude that atorvastatin hydroxy metabolites, and gemfibrozil metabolite I possess potent antioxidative potential, and as a result protect LDL, VLDL, and HDL from oxidation. We hypothesize that in addition to their beneficial lipid regulating activity, specific metabolites of both drugs may also reduce the atherogenic potential of lipoproteins through their antioxidant properties.