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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2001 Oct 1;394(1):117-35.

A critical overview of the chemistry of copper-dependent low density lipoprotein oxidation: roles of lipid hydroperoxides, alpha-tocopherol, thiols, and ceruloplasmin.

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  • 1Gray Cancer Institute, Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, Middlesex, HA6 2JR, United Kingdom.


The mechanisms by which low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles undergo oxidative modification to an atherogenic form that is taken up by the macrophage scavenger-receptor pathway have been the subject of extensive research for almost two decades. The most common method for the initiation of LDL oxidation in vitro involves incubation with Cu(II) ions. Although various mechanisms have been proposed to explain the ability of Cu(II) to promote LDL modification, the precise reactions involved in initiating the process remain a matter of contention in the literature. This review provides a critical overview and evaluation of the current theories describing the interactions of copper with the LDL particle. Following discussion of the thermodynamics of reactions dependent upon the decomposition of preexisting lipid hydroperoxides, which are present in all crude LDL preparations, attention is turned to the more difficult (but perhaps more physiologically-relevant) system of the hydroperoxide-free LDL particle. In both systems, the key role of alpha-tocopherol is discussed. In addition to its protective, radical-scavenging action, alpha-tocopherol can also behave as a prooxidant via its reduction of Cu(II) to Cu(I). Generation of Cu(I) greatly facilitates the decomposition of lipid hydroperoxides to chain-carrying radicals, but the mechanisms by which the vitamin promotes LDL oxidation in the absence of preformed hydroperoxides remain more speculative. In addition to the so-called tocopherol-mediated peroxidation model, in which polyunsaturated fatty acid oxidation is initiated by the alpha-tocopheroxyl radical (generated during the reduction of Cu(II) by alpha-tocopherol), an evaluation of the role of the hydroxyl radical is provided. Important interactions between copper ions and thiols are also discussed, particularly in the context of cell-mediated LDL oxidation. Finally, the mechanisms by which ceruloplasmin, a copper-containing plasma protein, can bring about LDL modification are discussed. Improved understanding of the mechanisms of LDL oxidation by copper ions should facilitate the establishment of any physiological role of the metal in LDL modification. It will also assist in the interpretation of studies in which copper systems of LDL oxidation are used in vitro to evaluate potential antioxidants.

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