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Open Access Highly Accessed Hypothesis

The “Mevalonate hypothesis”: a cholesterol-independent alternative for the etiology of atherosclerosis

Hiskias G Keizer

Author Affiliations

Stepan Specialty Products B.V., Museumlaan 16, 1541 LP, Koog aan de Zaan, The Netherlands

Lipids in Health and Disease 2012, 11:149  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-11-149

Published: 5 November 2012

Abstract

The “cholesterol hypothesis” is the leading theory to explain the cause of atherosclerosis. The “cholesterol hypothesis” assumes that plasma (LDL) cholesterol is an important causal factor for atherosclerosis.

However, data of at least seven placebo controlled randomized prospective trials with various cholesterol lowering drugs show that plasma cholesterol lowering does not necessarily lead to protection against cardiovascular disease. Therefore an alternative hypothesis for the etiology of cardiovascular disease is formulated. This alternative hypothesis, the “mevalonate hypothesis”, assumes that after stimulation of the mevalonate pathway in endothelial cells by inflammatory factors, these cells start producing cholesterol and free radicals. In this hypothesis, only the latter play a role in the etiology of atherosclerosis by contributing to the formation of oxidized cholesterol which is a widely accepted causal factor for atherosclerosis.

Regardless of how the mevalonate pathway is activated (by withdrawal of statin drugs, by inflammatory factors or indirectly by reduced intracellular cholesterol levels) in all these cases free radical production is observed as well as cardiovascular disease. Since in the “mevalonate hypothesis” cholesterol is produced at the same time as the free radicals causing atherosclerosis, this hypothesis provides an explanation for the correlation which exists between cardiovascular disease and plasma cholesterol levels. From an evolutionary perspective, concomitant cholesterol production and free radical production in response to inflammatory factors makes sense if one realizes that both activities potentially protect cells and organisms from infection by gram-negative bacteria.

In conclusion, data have been collected which suggest that activation of the mevalonate pathway in endothelial cells is likely to be a causal factor for atherosclerosis. This “mevalonate hypothesis” provides a better explanation for results obtained from recent clinical studies with cholesterol lowering drugs than the “cholesterol hypothesis”. Furthermore, this hypothesis explains how cholesterol can be correlated with cardiovascular disease without being a causal factor for it. Finally it provides a logical explanation for the etiology of this disease.