Background and Purpose: The object of our study was to compare the effect of high-dose vs low-dose atorvastatin vs nonstatin-based treatment (cholestyramine plus sitosterol) on cell composition of carotid plaque. Methods: We recruited 60 hypercholesterolemic patients (total cholesterol, 5.83-7.64 mmol/L) eligible for carotid endarterectomy. Three months before surgery, patients were randomized into 3 groups (n=20) receiving atorvastatin 10 mg/day (AT-10) or atorvastatin 80 mg/day (AT-80) or cholestyramine 8 g/day plus sitosterol 2.5 g/day. Analysis of cell composition was performed on endarterectomy specimens. RESULTS: The 3 treatments resulted in a significant reduction of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), although the decrease in total cholesterol and LDL-C was of smaller magnitude in the cholestyramine plus sitosterol group. The 3 regimens did not influence the levels of inflammatory markers (including high-sensitivity C-reactive protein). Macrophage content was significantly lower in the AT-10 group plaques compared to the cholestyramine plus sitosterol group. It was further reduced in the AT-80 group plaques. These differences were no longer significant after adjustment for changes in LDL-C. No difference in lymphocyte number was observed among treatments, whereas the content of smooth muscle cells was higher in the AT- 80 group. An inverse association was observed between LDL-C changes in the 3 groups and macrophage content in the plaques. Conclusions: Short-term treatment with high-dose statin is superior to a nonstatin lipid-lowering regimen in reducing the macrophage cell content within atherosclerotic lesions, but this effect was determined by the degree of LDL-C-lowering
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