Cynomolgus monkeys, Macaca fascicularis, fed cholesterol-containing saturated-fat diets develop increased levels of high molecular weight plasma low density lipoproteins (LDL), associated with accelerated atherosclerosis. To study the composition and structure of these abnormal particles, LDL from monkeys, fed atherogenic and control diets, were characterized chemically and examined by differential scanning calorimetry and low-angle X-ray scattering. LDL from animals on the experimental diet showed an increase in molecular weight (4.0 to 7.0 × 106, experimental diet compared with 3.0 to 3.7 × 106, control diet) associated with a large increase in cholesterol ester content and concomitant smaller increases in protein, phospholipid, and free cholesterol. There was a strong positive correlation between molecular weight and the number of saturated and monounsaturated cholesterol esters in the particle. In contrast, particle content of polyunsaturated cholesterol esters remained constant despite large changes in total particle cholesterol esters.
When examined by calorimetry and X-ray scattering, LDL from monkeys on both diets diplayed a reversible transition of cholesterol esters from an ordered smeticlike (layered) structure to a more disordered state. For all animals on the experimental diet, the peak temperature of the cholesterol-ester transition (42-48°C) was above body temperature (39°C), but below body temperature on the control diet (34-38.5°C). In the experimental group, the transition temperature was correlated with the LDL molecular weight. However, after thermal disruption of LDL, liquid-crystalline transitions of LDL cholesterol esters were observed in the same temperature range as in the intact lipoprotein, which shows that changes in particle size had little effect on the cholesterol-ester transition temperature. Rather, the transition temperature was determined by the degree of saturation of the LDL cholesterol ester fatty acids and the LDL cholesterol ester: triglyceride ratio, both of which correlated with increased LDL molecular weight.
The existence of smectic-like cholesterol ester in LDL at body temperature was clearly a discriminating feature between monkeys on control and experimental diets. Diet-induced changes in the lipid composition of precursor lipoproteins of LDL appeared to lead to the existence of smectic-like cholesterol ester in LDL above body temperature. The altered composition and structure of the core lipids of high molecular weight LDL probably account, in part, for the previously documented correlation between increased LDL molecular weight and atherosclerosis in this species.