Purpose of review
Lipoprotein(a) is a structurally and functionally unique lipoprotein consisting of the glycoprotein apolipoprotein(a) covalently linked to LDL. Lipoprotein(a) is assembled extracellularly by a two-step mechanism, still incompletely understood, in which initial non-covalent interactions between apolipoprotein(a) and apolipoprotein B precede specific disulfide bond formation. Elevated concentrations of plasma lipoprotein(a) are a risk factor for a variety of vascular diseases, including coronary heart disease, ischaemic stroke and venous thrombosis. Whereas many pathogenic mechanisms have been proposed for lipoprotein(a), it remains to be conclusively demonstrated which mechanisms are relevant to human disease.
Structural and functional studies have verified that apolipoprotein(a) kringle 4 types 6-8 contain lysine binding sites of a weaker affinity for lysine analogues than kringle 4 type 10. Recent evidence has conclusively shown a role for kringle 4 types 7 and 8 in lipoprotein(a) assembly. Moreover, apolipoprotein(a) has been shown to undergo a conformational change, from a closed to an open form, which accelerates the rate of covalent lipoprotein(a) assembly. Functional studies in vitro have identified the domains in apolipoprotein(a) that mediate its inhibitory effects on fibrin clot lysis, binding to fibrin and other biological substrates, and pro-inflammatory and anti-angiogenic properties.
Extensive structure-function studies of apolipoprotein(a) have begun to yield important insights into the domains in apolipoprotein(a) that mediate lipoprotein(a) assembly and the pathogenic effects of this lipoprotein. Continued investigations of these relationships will contribute critically to unravelling the many outstanding questions about lipoprotein(a) metabolism and pathophysiology.