Hyperlipidemia is common in heart transplant patients. Lipid-lowering therapy poses special problems, yet may be important because accelerated graft atherosclerosis is the major factor limiting long-term survival. Simvastatin 5 mg/day was started > 6 months after surgery in 26 consecutive cardiac transplant recipients with a total serum cholesterol level of > 250 mg/dl. The dose of simvastatin was increased in 5-mg increments until total serum cholesterol fell below 220 mg/dl or until side effects developed or up to a maximal dose of 20 mg/day. The final average daily dose was 10 mg. Changes in serum lipid levels after 6 months of therapy were compared with data from a matched and concurrent control group of heart transplant patients not taking simvastatin. Immunosuppression for both groups consisted of CsA, AZA, and corticosteroids. In the simvastatin-treated group, the serum level of total cholesterol decreased by 27% from 315 +/- 53 to 230 +/- 38 mg/dl (P < 0.0001), low density lipoprotein cholesterol decreased by 40% from 205 +/- 30 to 123 +/- 32 mg/dl (P < 0.0001), and triglycerides decreased by 21% from 177 +/- 89 to 140 +/- 49 mg/dl (P < 0.01). There was no significant change in high density lipoprotein cholesterol level. Body weight and CsA blood levels remained stable. Steroid intake decreased during the study period to a similar extent in both the treated and the control groups. In the control group, no significant changes in serum lipid levels were observed. Two patients experienced a mild form of myotoxicity. In one other patient simvastatin treatment was stopped after an acute pancreatitis of uncertain etiology developed. Low dose simvastatin effectively lowers total serum cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides in heart transplant patients. With due precautions, the safety profile of the drug in this patient population seems reasonable.