The role of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease has been demonstrated by several epidemiological studies. The molecular basis for LDLs in atherosclerotic plaque formation and progression is not completely unraveled yet. Pharmacological modulation of plasma LDL-C concentrations and randomized clinical trials addressing the impact of lipid-lowering interventions on cardiovascular outcome have clearly shown that reducing plasma LDL-C concentrations results in a significant decrease in major cardiovascular events. For many years, statins have represented the most powerful pharmacological agents available to lower plasma LDL-C concentrations. In clinical trials, it has been shown that the greater the reduction in plasma LDL-C concentrations, the lower the rate of major cardiovascular events, especially in high-risk patients, because of multiple risk factors and recurrent events. However, in a substantial number of patients, the recommended LDL target is difficult to achieve because of different factors: genetic background (familial hypercholesterolemia), side effects (statin intolerance), or high baseline plasma LDL-C concentrations. In the last decade, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in LDL metabolism has progressed significantly and the key role of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) has emerged. This protein is an enzyme able to bind the LDL receptors (LDL-R) on hepatocytes, favoring their degradation. Blocking PCSK9 represents an intriguing new therapeutic approach to decrease plasma LDL-C concentrations, which in recent studies has been demonstrated to also result in a significant reduction in major cardiovascular events.
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