We have investigated the clinical significance of small dense low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (sd-LDL-C) concentrations in coronary heart disease (CHD). We measured the LDL size by gradient gel electrophoresis and quantified sd-LDL-C concentrations by a newly developed rapid assay using heparin-magnesium precipitation in 225 consecutive CHD patients without any lipid-lowering medication and 142 healthy middle-aged subjects as controls. The LDL size was markedly smaller and sd-LDL-C levels were significantly higher in CHD patients than in controls of both sexes, whereas LDL-C levels were comparable between CHD and controls. The LDL-C levels were significantly higher in a subpopulation of 84 patients with acute coronary syndrome than in other patients groups, while LDL size and high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) were not found to vary among the patients. The sd-LDL-C increased as the number of diseased vessels or Gensini atherosclerosis score increased. Among the 123 stable CHD patients, multiple logistic regression analysis revealed that sd-LDL-C levels were significantly associated with the clinically severe cases requiring coronary revascularization independently of LDL-C, HDL-C and apolipoprotein B. The sd-LDL mass plays a more important role in the progression of CHD than the LDL size, and the sd-LDL-C concentration serves as a powerful surrogate marker for the prevention of CHD.