Hypercholesterolemia is the dominant risk factor associated with atherothrombotic disorders in the western world. Consequently, much attention has been devoted to defining its role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. It is currently recognized that hypercholesterolemia induces phenotypic changes in the microcirculation that are consistent with oxidative and nitrosative stresses. Superoxide is generated via several cellular systems and, once formed, participates in a number of reactions, yielding various free radicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, peroxynitrite, or oxidized low-density lipoproteins. Once oxidant stress is invoked, characteristic pathophysiologic features ensue, such as platelet activation and lipid peroxidation, which are both involved in the initiation and progression of the atherosclerotic lesions. Thus, therapeutic strategies that act to maintain the normal balance in the oxidant status of the vascular bed may prove effective in reducing the deleterious consequences of hypercholesterolemia.
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