Abstract In vitro-studies have shown that phospholipid hydrolysis of low density lipoproteins (LDL) by bee venom or porcine pancreatic phospholipase A 2 (PLA 2) leads to an increased uptake of these lipoproteins by macrophages transforming them into foam cells. Recently, a secretory phospholipase A 2, group II, was detected in human atherosclerotic plaques. In order to investigate the role of this enzyme in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, a structurally identical human secretory PLA 2 was purified from the medium of HepG2 cells stimulated with interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor- α. The activity of the purified enzyme towards the phospholipids of native and modified low density lipoproteins was compared with the activity towards Escherichia coli-membranes and other phospholipid substrates. Compared to E. coli-membranes, native LDL proved to be a poor substrate for group II PLA 2. After mild oxidation induced by copper ions or by 2,2-azobis(2-amidinopropane) (AAPH), the susceptibility of LDL to phospholipid hydrolysis was found to be increased by 25 and 23%, respectively, whereas extensive copper-mediated oxidation caused a decreased hydrolysis. Aging of LDL at 6°C for weeks or at 37°C for hours resulted in an increase in PLA 2-catalyzed phospholipid hydrolysis of up to 26-fold. LDL protected from oxidation by probucol during aging showed a lesser increase in susceptibility to phospholipid hydrolysis. Our results suggest that PLA 2, group II, can increase the atherogenicity of LDL by its ability to hydrolyze the phospholipids of these lipoproteins, especially after modifications that are likely to occur in vivo.