Smaller LDL particles are associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease and have been found predominantly in subjects with the insulin resistance syndrome. Although insulin resistance has been suggested to be a basic defect, little is known about the relation between this predisposing factor (and associated metabolic disturbances) and LDL size distribution in young and metabolically healthy subjects. In the present study, we investigated the relation between insulin sensitivity, lipoprotein distribution, and LDL patterns in young adults to increase the understanding of the development of metabolic risk factors in an early phase of the life span.


Young, clinically healthy subjects (n = 50; age 21.1–30.6 years) were enrolled in the study. Glucose metabolism was characterized by peripheral insulin sensitivity assessed by a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp and by levels of fasting insulin, C-peptide, and glucose. Lipoproteins were measured, and LDL fractions were additionally characterized by the diameter of the major LDL peak, estimated by 2–16% polyacrylamide gradient gel electrophoresis. Cholesterol ester transfer was estimated with a fluorescent spectroscopic method that measures the transfer of fluorescent cholesteryl linoleate between exogenous donor and acceptor particles. In this assay system, cholesterylester transfer protein (CETP) activity was only influenced by the plasma CETP concentration therefore reflecting more likely the CETP mass.


In the entire study group, 47 subjects had LDL phenotype A (LDL diameter >25.75 nm) and 3 subjects had an intermediate phenotype (25.50–25.75 nm). An interrelation between LDL size and LDL triglyceride (LDL-TG) per apolipoprotein (apo) B (Spearman's rank correlation analysis; r = −0.78; P < 0.001) or LDL cholesterol ester (CE) per apoB (r = 0.58, P < 0.001) was found, and 39% of the plasma samples studied were characterized by a monodispersed LDL pattern. Furthermore, LDL diameters correlated negatively with total TGs (men: r = −0.52, P < 0.001; women: r = −0.61, P < 0.001) and positively with insulin sensitivity (total population: r = 0.54, P < 0.001). In addition, LDL size was inversely related to the [VLDL + LDL cholesterol (CH)]/HDL-CH ratio and positively to the HDL-CE/TG ratio, which were both related vice versa to CETP activity levels. A direct relation between CETP activity levels and LDL size or composition was not observed. In a linear regression analysis including parameters of lipoprotein metabolism (TG, HDL cholesterol, CETP activity level), glucose metabolism (insulin sensitivity, fasting insulin), and sex, only TGs predicted significantly for 62% of LDL size variability. If the total study population was evaluated according to quintiles of insulin sensitivity, increasing TGs (analysis of variance, Scheffe test; P < 0.05) and CETP activitiy levels (P < 0.05) were combined with decreasing LDL particle diameters (P < 0.05) and with a preponderance of a monodispersed LDL pattern (60%) in the most insulin-resistant group.


Among parameters of the lipoprotein and glucose metabolism, total TG is the single most important factor affecting LDL size variability, even in young adults. If the study population is evaluated according to insulin sensitivity, lipoprotein pattern is altered in a more atherogenic manner in the most insulin-resistant subjects. In this group, increasing TG and CETP activity levels are associated with decreasing LDL particle diameters and preponderance of a monodispersed LDL pattern. Although increasing CETP levels are combined with this particular lipoprotein profile, a direct relation to LDL size and composition is not found.

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