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Br J Exp Pathol. 1985 Feb;66(1):35-46.

Hyperlipoproteinaemia and atherosclerosis in rabbits fed low-level cholesterol and lecithin.


Dutch-Belted rabbits were fed for 18 months an atherogenic semipurified gel diet containing 14% hydrogenated coconut oil and 0.06% cholesterol (approximately 0.15 mg/kcal) or a non-atherogenic basal gel diet containing the same ingredients but with no coconut oil or cholesterol. Rabbits fed atherogenic diet developed hypercholesterolaemia (means 733 mg/dl at 16 months) and plasma lipoprotein (LP) distribution shifted from a pattern in which high-density lipoproteins (HDL) predominated to one in which very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) were predominant. Total cholesterol/triglyceride ratio in d less than 1.006 LP changed from 0.3 to 1.8. Plasma cholesterol and LP distribution returned to normal in rabbits fed atherogenic diet for 18 months followed by atherogenic diet plus 3% soya lecithin for an additional 4 months. Rabbits fed atherogenic diet for 18 months had extensive, usually full circumference fibromuscular plaques in main branches of coronary arteries and all portions of aorta which compromised lumen area by almost 50%. These lesions were modified in rabbits fed atherogenic diet plus lecithin. The plaques lacked foam cells and cholesterol clefts, were less cellular with a distinct fibrous surface and occupied less space. Animals fed basal diet did not develop hypercholesterolaemia (means 86 mg/dl at 16 months), although distribution of plasma LP shifted slightly in favour of increased low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and decreased HDL compared with rabbits fed standard commercial diet. Basal diet rabbits had no coronary atherosclerosis and only minimal focal foam cell lesions in proximal aorta. Liver injury including fatty change, cholangitis and portal fibrosis occurred in animals fed atherogenic diet. Thus, rabbits fed appropriate diets low in cholesterol accumulate cholesterol-enriched LP in their plasma and develop lesions in abdominal aorta and main branches of coronary arteries which are similar to those in man. Also, in this experimental model, dietary lecithin promotes a return to normal of the LP distribution profile and removal of lipid from established atherosclerotic plaque.

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