The diagnosis of heterozygous familial hypercholesterolaemia in three rural South African communities in which hypercholesterolaemia is very prevalent could be confirmed by the measurement of low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor activity in circulating lymphocytes. A nominal cut off point could be proposed which separated the LDL receptor activity of 24 clinically diagnosed heterozygous FH patients and 31 healthy people. LDL receptor activity was measured as total degradation of 125I-LDL and expressed as ng LDL/mg cell protein/6 hours. The cut off point was set at 970 ng/mg protein/6 hours. This proposed cut off point was tested by assaying the LDL receptor of three homozygous FH patients and seven of their obligate heterozygous FH first degree relatives. The three homozygous FH patients showed no receptor activity and the activity of the seven obligate heterozygous first degree relatives fell below the proposed cut off point. To determine the prevalence of FH in the study population, all persons aged 15 to 24 years whose total cholesterol levels fell above the 80th centile for their age and sex, as well as their families, were approached (n = 114). The LDL receptor activity in lymphocytes of 77 of these persons aged 15 to 24 years was determined after applying the exclusion criteria. Ten of the 77 participants had LDL receptor activity below 970 ng LDL/mg protein/6 hours and were therefore diagnosed as being heterozygous FH patients. The calculation of the prevalence (corrected for exclusions) revealed that one in 71 of the 15 to 24 year old permanent residents in the predominantly Afrikaans speaking community suffered from heterozygous FH. This is higher than any FH prevalence previously reported for any group.
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