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Atherosclerosis is strongly associated with dyslipoproteinaemia, and especially with increasing concentrations of low-density lipoprotein and decreasing concentrations of high-density lipoproteins. Its association with increasing concentrations of plasma triglyceride is less clear but, within the mixed hyperlipidaemias, dysbetalipoproteinaemia (Fredrickson type III hyperlipidaemia) has been identified as a very atherogenic entity associated with both premature ischaemic heart disease and peripheral arterial disease. Dysbetalipoproteinaemia is characterized by the accumulation of remnants of chylomicrons and of very low-density lipoproteins. The onset occurs after childhood and usually requires an additional metabolic stressor. In women, onset is typically delayed until menopause. Clinical manifestations may vary from no physical signs to severe cutaneous and tendinous xanthomata, atherosclerosis of coronary and peripheral arteries, and pancreatitis when severe hypertriglyceridaemia is present. Rarely, mutations in apolipoprotein E are associated with lipoprotein glomerulopathy, a condition characterized by progressive proteinuria and renal failure with varying degrees of plasma remnant accumulation. Interestingly, predisposing genetic causes paradoxically result in lower than average cholesterol concentration for most affected persons, but severe dyslipidaemia develops in a minority of patients. The disorder stems from dysfunctional apolipoprotein E in which mutations result in impaired binding to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors and/or heparin sulphate proteoglycans. Apolipoprotein E deficiency may cause a similar phenotype. Making a diagnosis of dysbetalipoproteinaemia aids in assessing cardiovascular risk correctly and allows for genetic counseling. However, the diagnostic work-up may present some challenges. Diagnosis of dysbetalipoproteinaemia should be considered in mixed hyperlipidaemias for which the apolipoprotein B concentration is relatively low in relation to the total cholesterol concentration or when there is significant disparity between the calculated LDL and directly measured LDL cholesterol concentrations. Genetic tests are informative in predicting the risk of developing the disease phenotype and are diagnostic only in the context of hyperlipidaemia. Specialised lipoprotein studies in reference laboratory centres can also assist in diagnosis. Fibrates and statins, or even combination treatment, may be required to control the dyslipidaemia.


A D Marais, G A E Solomon, D J Blom. Dysbetalipoproteinaemia: a mixed hyperlipidaemia of remnant lipoproteins due to mutations in apolipoprotein E. Critical reviews in clinical laboratory sciences. 2014 Feb;51(1):46-62

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PMID: 24405372

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