BACKGROUND: Lecithin:cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT) is the sole enzyme that esterifies cholesterol in plasma. Its role in the supposed protection from atherogenesis remains unclear because mutations in LCAT causing fish-eye disease (FED) or familial LCAT deficiency (FLD) have been reported to be associated with more or instead less carotid atherosclerosis, respectively. This discrepancy may be associated with the loss of cholesterol esterification on only apolipoprotein AI (FED) or on both apolipoprotein AI- and apolipoprotein B-containing lipoproteins (FLD), an aspect that has thus far not been investigated.
METHODS: Seventy-four heterozygotes for LCAT mutations recruited from Italy and the Netherlands were assigned to FLD (n=33) or FED (n=41) groups and compared with 280 control subjects. Subclinical atherosclerosis was assessed with carotid intima-media thickness.
RESULTS: Compared with control subjects, total cholesterol was lower by 16% (-32.9 mg/dL) and 7% (-14.9 mg/dL) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol was lower by 29% (-16.7 mg/dL) and 36% (-20.7 mg/dL) in the FLD and FED groups, respectively. Subjects with FLD displayed a significant 18% lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol compared with subjects with FED (101.9±35.0 versus 123.6±47.4 mg/dL; P=0.047) and control subjects (122.6±35.0 mg/dL; P=0.003). Remarkably, all 3 intima-media thickness parameters were lower in subjects with FLD compared with FED and control subjects (accounting for age, sex, body mass index, smoking, hypertension, family history of cardiovascular disease, and plasma lipids). After additional correction for nationality and ultrasonographic methods, average and maximum intima-media thickness remained significantly lower when subjects with FLD were compared with those with FED (0.59 versus 0.73 mm, P=0.003; and 0.87 versus 1.24 mm, P<0.001, respectively). In contrast, the common carotid intima-media thickness (corrected for age, sex, body mass index, smoking, hypertension, family history of cardiovascular disease, and plasma lipids) was higher in subjects with FED compared with control subjects (0.69 versus 0.65 mm; P=0.05), but this significance was lost after adjustment for nationality and ultrasonographic machine.
CONCLUSIONS: In this head-to-head comparison, FLD and FED mutations were shown to be associated with decreased and increased atherosclerosis, respectively. We propose that this discrepancy is related to the capacity of LCAT to generate cholesterol esters on apolipoprotein B-containing lipoproteins. Although this capacity is lost in FLD, it is unaffected in FED. These results are important when considering LCAT as a target to decrease atherosclerosis.