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Concept: Carotenoid


Tardigrades are microscopic aquatic animals with remarkable abilities to withstand harsh physical conditions such as dehydration or exposure to harmful highly energetic radiation. The mechanisms responsible for such robustness are presently little known, but protection against oxidative stresses is thought to play a role. Despite the fact that many tardigrade species are variously pigmented, scarce information is available about this characteristic. By applying Raman micro-spectroscopy on living specimens, pigments in the tardigrade Echiniscus blumi are identified as carotenoids, and their distribution within the animal body is visualized. The dietary origin of these pigments is demonstrated, as well as their presence in the eggs and in eye-spots of these animals, together with their absence in the outer layer of the animal (i.e., cuticle and epidermis). Using in-vivo semi-quantitative Raman micro-spectroscopy, a decrease in carotenoid content is detected after inducing oxidative stress, demonstrating that this approach can be used for studying the role of carotenoids in oxidative stress-related processes in tardigrades. This approach could be thus used in further investigations to test several hypotheses concerning the function of these carotenoids in tardigrades as photo-protective pigments against ionizing radiations or as antioxidants defending these organisms against the oxidative stress occurring during desiccation processes.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Antioxidant, Arthropod, Oxidative stress, In vivo, Carotenoid, Lutein, Tardigrade


Speed of processing is a particularly important characteristic of the visual system. Often a behavioral reaction to a visual stimulus must be faster than the conscious perception of that stimulus, as is the case with many sports (e.g., baseball). Visual psychophysics provides a relatively simple and precise means of measuring visual processing speed called the temporal contrast sensitivity function (tCSF). Past study has shown that macular pigment (a collection of xanthophylls, lutein (L), meso-zeaxanthin (MZ) and zeaxanthin (Z), found in the retina) optical density (MPOD) is positively correlated with the tCSF. In this study, we found similar correlations when testing 102 young healthy subjects. As a follow-up, we randomized 69 subjects to receive a placebo (n=15) or one of two L and Z supplements (n=54). MPOD and tCSF were measured psychophysically at baseline and 4months. Neither MPOD nor tCSF changed for the placebo condition, but both improved significantly as a result of supplementation. These results show that an intervention with L and Z can increase processing speed even in young healthy subjects.

Concepts: Retina, Photoreceptor cell, Visual perception, Visual system, Carotenoid, Zeaxanthin, Macular degeneration, Xanthophyll


The dramatic rise in the use of smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers over the past decade has raised concerns about potentially deleterious health effects of increased “screen time” (ST) and associated short-wavelength (blue) light exposure. We determined baseline associations and effects of 6 months' supplementation with the macular carotenoids (MC) lutein, zeaxanthin, and mesozeaxanthin on the blue-absorbing macular pigment (MP) and measures of sleep quality, visual performance, and physical indicators of excessive ST. Forty-eight healthy young adults with at least 6 h of daily near-field ST exposure participated in this placebo-controlled trial. Visual performance measures included contrast sensitivity, critical flicker fusion, disability glare, and photostress recovery. Physical indicators of excessive screen time and sleep quality were assessed via questionnaire. MP optical density (MPOD) was assessed via heterochromatic flicker photometry. At baseline, MPOD was correlated significantly with all visual performance measures (p < 0.05 for all). MC supplementation (24 mg daily) yielded significant improvement in MPOD, overall sleep quality, headache frequency, eye strain, eye fatigue, and all visual performance measures, versus placebo (p < 0.05 for all). Increased MPOD significantly improves visual performance and, in turn, improves several undesirable physical outcomes associated with excessive ST. The improvement in sleep quality was not directly related to increases in MPOD, and may be due to systemic reduction in oxidative stress and inflammation.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Antioxidant, Carotenoid, Laptop, Zeaxanthin, Lutein, Xanthophyll, Shutter speed


Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) is the third most widely consumed plant food by humans. Its tubers are rich in starch and vitamin C, but have low or null levels of essential nutrients such as provitamin A and vitamin E. Transformation of potato with a bacterial mini-pathway for β-carotene in a tuber-specific manner results in a “golden” potato (GP) tuber phenotype resulting from accumulation of provitamin A carotenoids (α- and β-carotene) and xanthophylls. Here, we investigated the bioaccessibility of carotenoids and vitamin E as α-tocopherol (αTC) in boiled wild type and golden tubers using in vitro digestion. Golden tubers contained up to 91 μg provitamin A carotenes (PAC)/g D, increased levels of xanthophylls, phytoene and phytofluene, as well as up to 78 μg vitamin E/g DW. Cubes from wild type and GP tubers were boiled and subjected to simulated digestion to estimate bioaccessibility of carotenoids and αTC. Retention in boiled GPs exceeded 80% for β-carotene (βC), α-carotene (αC), lutein, phytoene ± and αTC, but less than 50% for phytofluene. The efficiency of partitioning of total βC, αC, E-lutein, phytoene, phytofluene and αTC in the mixed micelle fraction during small intestinal digestion was influenced by genotype, tuber content and hydrophobicity. Apical uptake of the compounds that partitioned in mixed micelles by monolayers of human intestinal Caco-2 cells during incubation for 4h was 14-20% for provitamin A and xanthophylls, 43-45% for phytoene, 23-27% for phytofluene, and 53% for αTC. These results suggest that a 150 g serving of boiled golden potatoes has the potential to contribute 42% and 23% of the daily requirement of retinol activity equivalents (RAE), as well as 34 and 17% of the daily vitamin E requirement for children and women of reproductive age, respectively.

Concepts: Antioxidant, Vitamin, Carotenoid, Vitamin C, Solanum, Potato, Carotene, Vitamin A


The eye is a major sensory organ that requires special care for a healthy and productive lifestyle. Numerous studies have identified lutein and zeaxanthin to be essential components for eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoid pigments that impart yellow or orange color to various common foods such as cantaloupe, pasta, corn, carrots, orange/yellow peppers, fish, salmon and eggs. Their role in human health, in particular the health of the eye, is well established from epidemiological, clinical and interventional studies. They constitute the main pigments found in the yellow spot of the human retina which protect the macula from damage by blue light, improve visual acuity and scavenge harmful reactive oxygen species. They have also been linked with reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Research over the past decade has focused on the development of carotenoid-rich foods to boost their intake especially in the elderly population. The aim of this article is to review recent scientific evidences supporting the benefits of lutein and zexanthin in preventing the onset of two major age-related eye diseases with diets rich in these carotenoids. The review also lists major dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin and refers to newly developed foods, daily intake, bioavailability and physiological effects in relation to eye health. Examples of the newly developed high-lutein functional foods are also underlined.

Concepts: Nutrition, Antioxidant, Retina, Eye, Carotenoid, Zeaxanthin, Macular degeneration, Lutein


Because of their role as antioxidants, the intake of carotenoids has been hypothesized to reduce the risk of head and neck cancer (HNC). We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the epidemiological studies to investigate whether the intake of specific carotenoids from dietary sources, as well as combined carotenoids, is associated with the risk of HNC according to cancer subsites. A comprehensive literature search of Medline and Scopus databases was conducted. Sixteen articles were identified from the literature search, of which 15 case-control studies and one prospective cohort study. The risk reduction associated with β-carotene equivalents intake was 46% (95% CI: 20-63%) for cancer of oral cavity and 57% (95% CI: 23-76%) for laryngeal cancer. Lycopene and β-cryptoxanthin also reduced the risk for laryngeal cancer; the ORs for the highest category compared to the lowest one of carotenoid intake were 50% (95% CI: 11-72%) and 59% (95% CI: 49-67%), respectively. Lycopene, α-carotene, and β-cryptoxanthin were associated with at least 26% reduction in the rate of oral and pharyngeal cancer (95% CI: 2-44%). Our systematic-review and meta-analysis on dietary carotenoids intake and HNC showed carotenoids to act protectively against HNC, in relation to most of single-nutrients and subsites.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Epidemiology, Head and neck anatomy, Antioxidant, Carotenoid, Head and neck cancer, Study design, Lycopene


Purpose. A large body of research has linked macular lutein and zeaxanthin to reduced risk of degenerative eye disease. The earliest published hypothesis for the role of the pigments was not based on chronic protection but immediate function. Recent data on macular pigment (MP) have shown that screening the foveal cones from short-wave light does, in fact, result in improvements in photostress recovery (PR), glare disability (GD) and chromatic contrast (CC). This study examined those relations on a larger sample. Methods. 150 young healthy subjects were assessed. Plasma samples were obtained from 100 subjects for HPLC quantification of serum xanthophylls. MP density was measured using customized heterochromatic flicker photometery. GD, PR and CC were measured in Maxwellian view using a broadband xenon light source. GD was measured by increasing the intensity of an annulus until it veiled a central target. PR was measured as the time necessary to regain sight of a central target after a 5 second exposure to an intense bleaching light. CC was measured as the amount of light necessary in a 460 nm background to lose sight of a central target. Results. MP density was significantly related to serum lutein and zeaxanthin combined (r = 0.31, p = 0.002), GD (r = 0.24, p = 0.0015), PR (r = -0.18, p = 0.01), and CC (r = 0.46, p = 0.00005). Conclusions. These results confirm earlier reports of a significant relation between variation in macular pigment optical density and immediate effects on visual function. As with many species, intra-ocular yellow filters in humans appear to improve many aspects of the visual stimulus.

Concepts: Optics, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Carotenoid, Zeaxanthin, Macular degeneration, Lutein, Xanthophyll


Chromoplasts are special organelles that possess superior ability to synthesize and store massive amounts of carotenoids. They are responsible for the distinctive colors found in fruits, flowers, and roots. Chromoplasts exhibit various morphologies and are derived from either pre-existing chloroplasts or other non-photosynthetic plastids such as proplastids, leucoplasts or amyloplasts. While little is known about the molecular mechanisms underlying chromoplast biogenesis, research progress along with proteomics study of chromoplast proteomes signifies various processes and factors improtant for chromoplast differentiaton and development. Chromoplasts act as a metabolic sink that enables great biosynthesis and high storage capacity of carotenoids. The formation of chromoplasts enhances carotenoid metabolic sink strength and controls carotenoid accumulation in plants. The objective of this review is to provide an integrated view on our understanding of chromoplast biogenesis and carotenoid accumulation in plants.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Plastid, Carotenoid, Organelles, Chromoplast, Leucoplast, Amyloplast, Elaioplast


We investigated the feasibility of rapid, nondestructive assay of carotenoid-to-chlorophyll (Car/Chl) ratio and total carotenoids (Car) in cell suspensions of the carotenogenic chlorophyte Haematococcus pluvialis Flotow under stressful conditions. Whole-cell spectra are characterized by variable nonlinear contributions of Car and chlorophylls (Chl), with a strong influence of Car packaging and sieve effect inherent to stressed H. pluvialis cells. Nevertheless, nondestructive assay of Car/Chl in the range of 0.55-31.2 (Car content up to 188 mg L(-1); 5.4 % of the cell dry weight) turned to be achievable with a simple spectrophotometer lacking an integrating sphere upon deposition of the cells on glass fiber filters. The scattering-corrected optical density (OD) in the blue-green region of the whole-cell spectrum, normalized to that in the red maximum of Chl absorption (OD(500)/OD(678)), was tightly related (r (2) = 0.96) with the Car/Chl ratio found in extracts. Some features such as the amplitude and position of the minimum of the normalized first-derivative OD whole-cell spectra also exhibited a strong (r (2) > 0.90) nonlinear correlation with Car/Chl. These spectral indices were also tightly related with Car, but the slope of the relationship varied with the stressor intensity. The importance of calibration over the widest possible range of pigment contents and a correct choice of biomass load per filter are emphasized. The advantages and limitations of nondestructive monitoring of carotenogenesis in H. pluvialis are discussed in view of its possible application in optical sensors for laboratory cultivation and mass production systems of the algae.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Carotenoid, Correlation and dependence, Absorption, Spectrum, Maxima and minima, Haematococcus pluvialis


We assessed the intake and major dietary sources of lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene (non-provitamin A carotenoids) in Spain using food consumption data from the Spanish National Dietary Intake Survey (2009-2010). Three-day diaries and one 24-h recall were used to collect dietary data and a software application that includes HPLC data was used. Average intake of those carotenoids was 4290.8 μg/d (67.1% total carotenoid intake), mainly from vegetables (3414.0 μg/d), followed by fruits (393.5 μg/d), oils/fats (204.0 μg/d) and eggs/egg products (170.0 μg/d). Main sources of lutein and zeaxanthin were vegetables (62.9% total diet, 1235.2 μg/person/d). Lycopene intake was 3055.6 μg/d (71.2% of non-provitamin A carotenoids), mainly from tomato and by-products (86.3%) and watermelon. Red- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables were the major contributors of non-provitamin carotenoids (3219.0 μg/person/d). Balanced diets should favor fruits and vegetables over other dietary sources (oils, eggs, processed foods) that contain components to be consumed with moderation.

Concepts: Nutrition, Carotenoid, Carotenoids, Tomato, Zeaxanthin, Lutein, Xanthophyll, Lycopene