November 2013

New thematic review series begins: “Living History of Lipids”

Nikolai Anitschkov

The November issue of the Journal of Lipid Research marks the start of a special thematic review series titled “Living History of Lipids.” As the title of the series suggests, this set of thematic reviews will explore what is known about lipids, but it will do so in the unique context of recognizing the forward-thinking pioneers whose hard work, determination and, in many cases, accidental yet astonishing experimental discoveries have led to the knowledge of the field as we know it today. The series is being coordinated by JLR Associate Editor Al Merrill of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The first installment, penned by Daniel Steinberg of the University of California, San Diego, a former editor-in-chief of JLR, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the lipid hypothesis of atherosclerosis. In 1913, a young Russian doctor named Nikolai N. Anitschkov observed that feeding rabbits a high-cholesterol diet caused arterial lesions that looked remarkably similar to those seen in human atherosclerosis. This finding flew in the face of the medical literature up to that time, which described atherosclerosis as an untreatable condition and an unavoidable consequence of aging.
Two subsequent decades of tireless research of rabbit atherosclerosis by Anitschkov and his team resulted in the publication of a comprehensive review of their investigations, which included the identification of foam cells and the observance of cholesterol accumulation, white blood cell recruitment and the conversion of fatty streaks to fibrous plaques. Anitschkov and his group also observed that the severity of arterial lesions is proportional to an increase in blood cholesterol levels; that distribution of the lesions is predictable, most commonly and severely at arterial branch points; and that lesions are, at some level, reversible.
In his review of Anitschkov’s lipid hypothesis of atherosclerosis, Steinberg concludes with much admiration that, despite all the technological advances and detractors over the past 100 years, Anitschkov’s hypothesis has required little amendment and has stood the test of time.

Mary ChangMary L. Chang ( is publications manager for the Journal of Lipid Research and Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

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