Copper-induced LDL oxidation is characterized by an 'induction phase' (lag phase) during which the endogenous antioxidants are consumed, followed by a 'propagation phase' in which the LDL-associated polyunsaturated fatty acids are oxidized. Oxidation products may play an important role in the propagation of the oxidative process in the arterial intima as they increase the permeability of the damaged endothelium to various plasma components, including LDL. We therefore found it of interest to investigate the kinetics of LDL oxidation in vitro under conditions where LDL is sequentially exposed to Cu2+-induced oxidation. The results of our studies demonstrate that when native LDL is exposed to copper oxidation in a medium containing oxidized LDL, oxidation of the added LDL may be almost instantaneous. Furthermore, even when native LDL is added to 'oxidizing LDL' towards the end of the lag phase or during the propagation phase it becomes oxidized after a very short lag. This oxidation process, occurring in spite of the possible protective effect of the antioxidants present in the newly added LDL, indicates that although antioxidants prolong the latency period by preventing the formation of active free radicals, when such radicals are present in the system, oxidation propagates. These results lend strong support to the generally accepted paradigm regarding the mechanism of propagation of lipid oxidation. In view of the effect of oxidation products on the permeability of the endothelium, the observed shortening of the lag period may result in a vicious cycle, independent of the LDL-associated antioxidants, leading to continuing oxidation and foam cell formation.