Plasma levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and its major apolipoprotein (apo), apo A-I, are inversely correlated with the incidence of ischemic cardiovascular diseases. Till now, evaluation of the hypothesis that elevation of HDL cholesterol reduces atherosclerotic burden and/or decreases ischemic cardiovascular events in humans has been hampered by the lack of drugs that selectively increase HDL cholesterol. In contrast to the lack of clinical data, evidence for a direct causal role of HDL in modulating atherogenesis in experimental models has been provided by investigations in human apo A-I transgenic mice and rabbits. The development of gene transfer technologies with a sufficiently high therapeutic index may pave the road for a selective and effective HDL raising therapeutic intervention. The goal of a therapeutic strategy that modulates HDL metabolism is not an increase of HDL cholesterol as such, but an enhancement of HDL function. The value of HDL cholesterol as a surrogate end-point to predict reduced atherosclerosis or a decrease in clinical events may be highly dependent on the mechanism leading to an increased level of HDL cholesterol. In the case of gene transfer, this implies that beneficial effects of increasing HDL cholesterol will be dependent on the transgene that is expressed. Here, we critically review HDL metabolism and HDL function in relation to the development of HDL raising gene transfer, advances and drawbacks of different gene transfer technologies, and experimental gene transfer studies evaluating the effect of raised HDL on histological and functional outcomes in animal models.
Keywords: High-density lipoproteins, gene therapy, gene transfer, apolipoprotein A-I, atherosclerosis, reverse cholesterol transport
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