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Circulation. 1993 Jun;87(6):1781-91.

Lipid lowering and plaque regression. New insights into prevention of plaque disruption and clinical events in coronary disease.

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Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle.


The consensus of evidence from angiographic trials demonstrates both coronary artery and clinical benefits from lowering of lipids by a variety of regimens. The findings of reduced arterial disease progression and increased regression have been convincing but, at best, modest in their magnitude. For example, among those treated intensively in FATS, the mean improvement in proximal stenosis severity per patient was < 1% stenosis, and only 12% of all lesions showed convincing regression. In view of these modest arterial benefits, the associated reductions in cardiovascular events have been surprisingly great. For example, coronary events were reduced 75% in FATS; this was entirely a result of a 93% reduction in the likelihood that a mildly or moderately diseased arterial segment would experience substantial progression to a severe lesion at the time of a clinical event. We believe that the magnitude of the clinical benefit is best explained in terms of this observation, according to the following lines of reasoning. Clinical events most commonly spring from lesions that are initially of mild or moderate severity and then abruptly undergo a disruptive transformation to a severe culprit lesion. The process of plaque fissuring, leading to plaque disruption and thrombosis, triggers most clinical coronary events. Fissuring is predicted by a large accumulation of core lipid in the plaque and by a high density of lipid-laden macrophages in its thinned fibrous cap. Lesions with these characteristics constitute only 10-20% of the overall lesion population but account for 80-90% of the acute clinical events. In the experimental setting, normalization of an atherogenic lipid profile substantially decreases the number of lipid-laden intimal macrophages (foam cells) and depletes cholesterol from the core lipid pool. In the clinical setting, intensive lipid lowering virtually halts the progression of mild and moderate lesions to clinical events. Thus, the reduction in clinical events observed in these trials appears to be best explained by the relation of the lipid and foam cell content of the plaque to its likelihood of fissuring and by the effects of lipid-lowering therapy on these "high-risk" features of plaque morphology. The composite of data presented here supports the hypothesis that lipid-lowering therapy selectively depletes (regresses) that relatively small but dangerous subgroup of fatty lesions containing a large lipid core and dense clusters of intimal macrophages. By doing so, these lesions are effectively stabilized and clinical event rate is accordingly decreased.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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