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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2002 Nov;43(11):3383-92.

Transformations of selected carotenoids in plasma, liver, and ocular tissues of humans and in nonprimate animal models.

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Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN), University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.



To determine the stereochemistry of carotenoids in human ocular tissues in comparison with plasma and liver and to elucidate the possible transformations of dietary (3R,3'R,6'R)-lutein and (3R,3'R)-zeaxanthin in the eye. Similarly, to characterize the carotenoid profiles in the eye tissues, plasma, and liver of quails and frogs to determine whether these can serve as appropriate nonprimate animal models for metabolic studies.


Configurational isomers of carotenoids and their nondietary by-products from pooled human plasma, liver, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE-choroid), ciliary body, iris, and lens were characterized and quantified by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) on a chiral column. Carotenoids and their nondietary by-products in pooled extracts from quail and frog plasma, liver, retina, RPE-choroid, iris, and lens were similarly characterized and quantified.


(3R,3'R,6'R)-lutein, (3R,3'R)-zeaxanthin, (3R,3'S; meso)-zeaxanthin, (3R,3'S,6'R)-lutein (3'-epilutein), 3-hydroxy-beta, epsilon -carotene-3'-one, and 5Z- and all-E-lycopene were detected in nearly all human ocular tissues examined. (3R,3'S; meso)-zeaxanthin was not detected in the human plasma and liver but was present in human macula, retina, and RPE-choroid. (3S,3'S)-zeaxanthin was detected in human macula in minute quantities. The carotenoid profiles in quail and frog ocular tissues were somewhat similar to those in humans, with the exception that lycopene was absent. Frog retina, plasma, and liver revealed the presence of (3S,3'S)-zeaxanthin.


The most likely transformations of carotenoids in the human eye involve a series of oxidation-reduction and double-bond isomerization reactions. Quail and frog appear to possess the appropriate enzymes for conversion of dietary (3R,3'R,6'R)-lutein and (3R,3'R)-zeaxanthin to the same nondietary by-products observed in humans and thus may serve as excellent nonprimate animal models for metabolic studies.

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