Cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors increase high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) in animals and humans, but whether CETP inhibition will be antiatherogenic is still uncertain. We tested the CETP inhibitor torcetrapib in rabbits fed an atherogenic diet at a dose sufficient to increase HDL-C by at least 3-fold (207 +/- 32 vs. 57 +/- 6 mg/dl in controls at 16 weeks). CETP activity was inhibited by 70-80% throughout the study. Non-HDL-C increased in both groups, but there was no difference apparent by the study's end. At 16 weeks, aortic atherosclerosis was 60% lower in torcetrapib-treated animals (16.4 +/- 3.4% vs. 39.8 +/- 5.4% in controls) and aortic cholesterol content was reduced proportionally. Sera from a separate group of rabbits administered torcetrapib effluxed 48% more cholesterol from Fu5AH cells than did sera from control animals, possibly explaining the reduced aortic cholesterol content. Regression analyses indicated that lesion area in the torcetrapib-treated group was strongly correlated with the ratio of total plasma cholesterol to HDL-C but not with changes in other lipid or lipoprotein levels. CETP inhibition with torcetrapib retards atherosclerosis in rabbits, and the reduced lesion area is associated with increased levels of HDL-C.