The effects of lovastatin therapy on the parameters of body cholesterol metabolism were explored in nine hypercholesterolemic patients. Long-term cholesterol turnover studies were performed before therapy, and were repeated after 15 mo of lovastatin therapy (40 mg/d) while continuing on therapy. The major question addressed was whether a reduction in plasma cholesterol level with lovastatin would be associated with a reduction in the whole-body production rate of cholesterol or with the sizes of exchangeable body cholesterol pools as determined by the three-pool model of cholesterol turnover. The mean plasma cholesterol level decreased 19.4% (from 294 to 237 mg/dl), and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol decreased 23.8% (from 210 to 159 mg/dl) with lovastatin therapy. Changes in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level were not significant. The cholesterol production rate did not change significantly with therapy (1.09 +/- 0.10 [mean +/- S.D.] vs. 1.17 +/- 0.09 g/d). By comparison, colestipol and niacin treatment in three other subjects more than doubled the cholesterol production rate (1.14 +/- 0.28 vs. 2.42 +/- 0.34 g/d). Thus, hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibition by lovastatin at the therapeutic dose used here did not change the steady-state rate of whole-body cholesterol synthesis. Despite the changes in plasma cholesterol levels, no significant changes were seen in the values of M1, of M3 or of Mtot, the sizes of the pools of rapidly, of slowly, and of total body exchangeable cholesterol. Conclusion: lovastatin therapy to lower plasma cholesterol does not lead to corresponding reductions in body cholesterol pools or to a reduction in the rate of whole-body cholesterol synthesis. In the new steady state that exists during long-term lovastatin therapy, along with increased expression of the genes for HMG-CoA reductase and the LDL receptor, the body compensates for the effects of the drug so that cholesterol production rate and tissue pool sizes are not changed from pretreatment values.
I J Goldberg, S Holleran, R Ramakrishnan, M Adams, R H Palmer, R B Dell, D S Goodman