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Nicotinic acid: pharmacological effects and mechanisms of action.

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  • 1Institute of Pharmacology, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.


Pharmacological doses of nicotinic acid induce a profound change in the plasma levels of various lipids and lipoproteins. The ability of nicotinic acid to strongly increase the plasma concentration of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol has in recent years led to an increased interest in the pharmacological potential of nicotinic acid. There is increasing evidence that nicotinic acid alone or in addition to LDL cholesterol-lowering drugs can reduce the progression of atherosclerosis and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. The clinical use of nicotinic acid is, however, hindered by harmless but unpleasant side effects, especially by a strong cutaneous vasodilation called flushing. The recent discovery of the G protein-coupled receptor GPR109A (HM74A or PUMA-G) as a receptor for nicotinic acid has allowed for better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the metabolic and vascular effects of nicotinic acid. On the basis of recent progress in understanding the pharmacological effects of nicotinic acid, new strategies are in development to better exploit the pharmacological potential of nicotinic acid. New drugs acting via the nicotinic acid receptor or related receptors, as well as new co-medications that suppress unwanted effects of nicotinic acid, will most likely be introduced as new therapeutic options in the treatment of dyslipidemia and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

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