When 'good cholesterol' goes bad

3 September 2014        

Test tubes

Researchers we've funded at the University of Warwick have discovered how ‘good cholesterol' can be turned ‘bad’ and increase the risk of someone developing coronary heart disease.

The team, led by Dr Naila Rabbani, found that a substance called methylglyoxal (MG), which is produced when the body breaks down sugar, damages ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

This type of cholesterol removes excess levels of the 'bad' LDL cholesterol from the body. Low levels of HDL are associated with coronary heart disease, which can cause a heart attack.

Increased levels of the damaging MG substance is common in the elderly and those with diabetes or kidney problems. It appears that MG destabilises HDL and causes it to lose the properties which protect against heart disease. The damaged HDL is rapidly cleared from the blood, reducing its HDL content, or remains without its beneficial function.

Turning discoveries into treatments

We currently don't have a treatment to raise our levels of HDL but this discovery has shown that one strategy might be to develop a drug that prevents MG from damaging HDL.

Our Senior Research Advisor, Dr Shannon Amoils, said:

The culprit compound that damages it could potentially be targeted with a drug

Dr Shannon Amoils
Senior Research Advisor at the BHF

“This interesting finding adds to evidence that under certain conditions, HDL can be modified so that it loses its heart protective effects, and that regarding HDL as ‘good cholesterol’ in all circumstances may be too simplistic.

“If the modified HDL cholesterol that Dr Rabbani is studying is found in large numbers of people with diabetes, the culprit compound that damages it could potentially be targeted with a drug to block its harmful action or to remove it from the circulation."

The research was published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes.

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