Purpose of review: 3-Hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitors (statins) are the most widely prescribed drugs worldwide for lowering cholesterol levels. In use for more than 15 years, they have demonstrated efficacy, safety, and tolerability across a broad range of patients. This class of drugs has been designed to lower the cholesterol level by competitively inhibiting the enzyme responsible for its biosynthesis and thereby to play a major role in reducing cardiovascular risk. However, both basic evidence and clinical evidence also supports the idea that reductions in cardiovascular risk are dependent on mechanisms beyond cholesterol reduction alone, such as the reduction of endothelial dysfunction, inhibition of inflammatory responses, stabilization of atherosclerotic plaques, and modulation of procoagulant activity and platelet function.
Recent findings: In fact, as shown in several clinical trials, the beneficial effects of statin treatment begin earlier than its cholesterol-lowering effect. These other mechanisms could act in concert with the potent low-density lipoprotein cholesterol-lowering effects of this class of drugs to exert early and lasting cardiovascular protective effects. Recently, several studies have shown that an intensive lipid-lowering regimen with a statin provides greater protection against death or major cardiovascular events than does a standard regimen.
Summary: This review summarizes the new findings in these pleiotropic effects and describes their impact on vascular processes.