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Lipoprotein classification, metabolism, and role in atherosclerosis

Robert S Rosenson, MD
Section Editor
Mason W Freeman, MD
Deputy Editor
Gordon M Saperia, MD, FACC


Lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, are insoluble in plasma. Circulating lipid is carried in lipoproteins that transport the lipid to various tissues for energy utilization, lipid deposition, steroid hormone production, and bile acid formation. The lipoprotein consists of esterified and unesterified cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, and protein. Based on the physicochemical characteristics of lipoproteins, these particles have been classified by their lipoprotein subclass size and concentrations [1].

The classification of lipoproteins, the function of the different apolipoproteins that they contain, the pathways of lipid metabolism, and how lipoprotein disorders can promote the development of atherosclerosis will be reviewed here.


The five major lipoproteins are presented below.

Chylomicrons — Chylomicrons are very large particles that carry dietary lipid. They are associated with a variety of apolipoproteins, including A-I, A-II, A-IV, B-48, C-I, C-II, C-III, and E.

Very low density lipoprotein — Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles carry endogenous triglycerides and to a lesser degree cholesterol. The major apolipoproteins associated with VLDL are B-100, C-I, C-II, C-III, and E.


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