Combined treatment with trypsin, cholesterol esterase, and neuraminidase transforms LDL, but not HDL or VLDL, to particles with properties akin to those of lipid extracted from atherosclerotic lesions. Single or double enzyme modifications, or treatment with phospholipase C, or simple vortexing are ineffective. Triple enzyme treatment disrupts the ordered and uniform structure of LDL particles, and gives rise to the formation of inhomogeneous lipid droplets 10-200 nm in diameter with a pronounced net negative charge, but lacking significant amounts of oxidized lipid. Enzymatically modified LDL (E-LDL), but not oxidatively modified LDL (ox-LDL), is endowed with potent complement-activating capacity. As previously found for lipid isolated from atherosclerotic lesions, complement activation occurs to completion via the alternative pathway and is independent of antibody. E-LDL is rapidly taken up by human macrophages to an extent exceeding the uptake of acetylated LDL (ac-LDL) or oxidatively modified LDL. After 16 h, cholesteryl oleate ester formation induced by E-LDL (50 micrograms/ml cholesterol) was in the range of 6-10 nmol/mg protein compared with 3-6 nmol/mg induced by an equivalent amount of acetylated LDL. At this concentration, E-LDL was essentially devoid of direct cytotoxic effects. Competition experiments indicated that uptake of E-LDL was mediated in part by ox-LDL receptor(s). Thus, approximately 90% of 125I-ox-LDL degradation was inhibited by a 2-fold excess of unlabeled E-LDL. Uptake of 125I-LDL was not inhibited by E-LDL. We hypothesize that extracellular enzymatic modification may represent an important step linking subendothelial deposition of LDL to the initiation of atherosclerosis.

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