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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2005 Feb;46(2):692-702.

Nutritional manipulation of primate retinas, III: Effects of lutein or zeaxanthin supplementation on adipose tissue and retina of xanthophyll-free monkeys.

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  • 1Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.



Macular pigment (MP) is composed of the xanthophylls lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) and may help to prevent age-related macular degeneration or retard its progression. In this study the effects of L or Z supplementation on carotenoid levels was examined in serum, adipose tissue, and retina in rhesus monkeys with no previous intake of xanthophylls.


From birth to 7 to 16 years of age, 18 rhesus monkeys were fed semipurified diets containing all essential nutrients but no xanthophylls. Six were supplemented with pure L and 6 with pure Z at 3.9 micromol/kg per day for 24 to 101 weeks. At baseline and at 4- to 12-week intervals, carotenoids in adipose tissue were measured by HPLC. At study completion, carotenoids in serum and retina (central 4 mm, 8-mm annulus, and the periphery) were determined. Results were compared with data from control monkeys fed a standard laboratory diet.


Monkeys fed xanthophyll-free diets had no L or Z in serum or tissues. After L or Z supplementation, serum and adipose tissue concentrations significantly increased in the supplemented groups. Both L and 3R,3'S-Z (RSZ or meso-Z, not present in the diet) were incorporated into retinas of monkeys supplemented with L, with RSZ present only in the macula (central 4 mm). All-trans Z, but no RSZ, accumulated in retinas of monkeys supplemented with Z.


L is the precursor of RSZ, a major component of macular pigment. Xanthophyll-free monkeys can accumulate retinal xanthophylls and provide a valuable model for examining their uptake and conversion.

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