High-Density Lipoprotein Function Measurement in Human Studies: Focus on Cholesterol Efflux Capacity

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65 Scopus citations


A low plasma level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (HDL-C) is a major risk factor for the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). However, several observations have highlighted the shortcomings of using cholesterol content as the sole reflection of HDL metabolism. In particular, several large randomized controlled trials of extended release niacin and cholesteryl-ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors on background statin therapy have failed to show improvement in ASCVD outcomes despite significant increases in HDL-C. Reverse cholesterol transport (RCT) is the principal HDL function that impacts macrophage foam cell formation and other functions such as endothelial activation of endothelial nitric oxide synthase, monocyte adhesion, and platelet aggregation. Cholesterol efflux from macrophages to plasma/serum reflects the first critical step of RCT and is considered a key anti-atherosclerotic function of HDL. Whether this function is operative in humans remains to be seen, but recent studies assessing cholesterol efflux in humans suggest that the cholesterol efflux capacity (CEC) of human plasma or serum is a potent marker of ASCVD risk. This review describes the methodology of measuring CEC ex vivo from human samples and the findings to date linking CEC to human disease. Studies to date confirm that CEC can be reliably measured using stored human blood samples as cholesterol acceptors and suggest that CEC may be a promising new biomarker for atherosclerotic and metabolic diseases. Further studies are needed to standardize measurements and clarify the role CEC may play in predicting risk of developing disease and response to therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-40
Number of pages9
JournalProgress in Cardiovascular Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cholesterol efflux
  • Coronary disease
  • Function
  • HDL
  • Heart disease
  • Lipoprotein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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