The mechanisms by which dietary soy favorably influences lipoprotein metabolism and inhibits atherosclerosis are uncertain. Studies of blood mononuclear cells and cultured hepatocytes have indicated that certain soy peptides (i.e., 7S globulins) stimulate expression of LDL receptors. This pathway represents a hypothetical mechanism by which soy's hypocholesterolemic and antiatherosclerotic effects may be mediated. However, direct evidence supporting this hypothesis is lacking. To address this, we compared effects of dietary soy protein isolate in two genetically engineered mouse models of atherosclerosis. One mouse [LDL receptor -/- + apolipoprotein (apo) B transgenic] is devoid of LDL receptors and overproduces apolipoprotein B, whereas the other (apoE -/-) has a normal complement of LDL receptors but does not produce apolipoprotein E. Male (n = 10-12/group) and ovariectomized female (n = 10-12/group) mice were studied. There were three treatment groups, which differed principally by the source of the protein component of the diet: 1) casein/lactalbumin (no isoflavones), 2) alcohol-washed soy protein isolate (total isoflavones = 0.04 mg/g), and 3) intact soy protein isolate (total isoflavones = 1.72 mg/g). Atherosclerosis was assessed by quantifying the aortic content of esterified cholesterol. Atherosclerosis was inhibited (relative to the casein/lactalbumin group) by both alcohol-washed (45 and 31%) (P < 0.05) and intact (65 and 41%) (P < 0.05) soy protein isolate in LDL receptor -/- and apoE -/- mice, respectively. There was no sex difference. In a two-way analysis, there were significant effects of type of soy isolate and type of mouse. The antiatherosclerosis effect was enhanced in LDL receptor -/- mice (P < 0.001) and diminished in mice fed alcohol-washed soy protein isolate (P < 0.001). Furthermore, inhibitory effects of soy on atherosclerosis were unrelated to plasma LDL, VLDL or HDL cholesterol concentrations. The results represent direct evidence for the existence of LDL receptor- and plasma lipoprotein-independent pathways by which dietary soy protein isolate inhibits atherosclerosis.
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