The arachidonate 15-lipoxygenase which is expressed in atherosclerotic lesions is implicated in the oxidative modification of low density lipoproteins during atherogenesis. To obtain experimental in vivo evidence for this hypothesis, we analyzed the structure of oxygenated lipids isolated from the aorta of rabbits fed with a cholesterol-rich diet for different time periods and compared the pattern of oxygenation products with that isolated from low density lipoproteins treated in vitro with the pure rabbit 15-lipoxygenase and with oxygenated lipids isolated from advanced human atherosclerotic lesions. In early atherosclerotic lesions (12-wk cholesterol feeding), specific lipoxygenase products were detected whose structure was similar to those isolated from lipoxygenase-treated low density lipoproteins. The appearance of these products did coincide with the lipid deposition in the vessel wall. In later stages of atherogenesis (26-wk cholesterol feeding) the degree of oxidative modification of the tissue lipids did increase but the share of specific lipoxygenase products was significantly lower, suggesting an increasing overlay of the specific lipoxygenase products by nonenzymatic lipid peroxidation. In advanced human atherosclerotic lesions, large amounts of oxygenation products were detected whose structure suggests a nonenzymatic origin. These data suggest that the arachidonate 15-lipoxygenase is of pathophysiological importance during the early stages of atherogenesis. In later stages of plaque development nonenzymatic lipid peroxidation becomes more relevant.

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