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Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2015 Aug;17(8):43. doi: 10.1007/s11883-015-0521-x.

Niacin Therapy, HDL Cholesterol, and Cardiovascular Disease: Is the HDL Hypothesis Defunct?

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, TX, USA.


High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) has been shown in epidemiologic studies to be associated with cardiovascular (CV) risk and thus significant efforts have been focused on HDL-C modulation. Multiple pharmaceutical agents have been developed with the goal of increasing HDL-C. Niacin, the most widely used medication to raise HDL-C, increases HDL-C by up to 25 % and was shown in multiple surrogate end point studies to reduce CV risk. However, two large randomized controlled trials of niacin, AIM-HIGH and HPS2-THRIVE, have shown that despite its effects on HDL-C, niacin does not decrease the incidence of CV events and may have significant adverse effects. Studies of other classes of agents such as cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors have also shown that even dramatic increases in HDL-C do not necessarily translate to reduction in clinical events. While these findings have cast doubt upon the importance of HDL-C modulation on CV risk, it is becoming increasingly clear that HDL function-related measures may be better targets for CV risk reduction. Increasing ApoA-I, the primary apolipoprotein associated with HDL, correlates with reduced risk of events, and HDL particle concentration (HDL-P) inversely associates with incident CV events adjusted for HDL-C and LDL particle measures. Cholesterol efflux, the mechanism by which macrophages in vessel walls secrete cholesterol outside cells, correlates with both surrogate end points and clinical events. The effects of niacin on these alternate measures of HDL have been conflicting. Further studies should determine if modulation of these HDL function markers translates to clinical benefits. Although the HDL cholesterol hypothesis may be defunct, the HDL function hypothesis is now poised to be rigorously tested.

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