Beta-carotene degradation products - formation, toxicity and prevention of toxicity

Published on Wednesday, 24 February 2016


Carotenoids are widely used as important micronutrients in food. Furthermore, carotenoid supplementation has been used in the treatment of diseases associated with oxidative stress such as various types of cancer, inflammatory diseases or cystic fibrosis. However, in some clinical studies harmful effects have been observed, e.g. a higher incidence of lung cancer in individuals exposed to extraordinary oxidative stress.

The causal mechanisms of harmful effects are still unclear. Carotenoid breakdown products (CBPs) including highly reactive aldehydes and epoxides are formed during oxidative attacks in the course of antioxidative action.

We investigated the formation of CBPs by stimulated neutrophils (and at further conditions), tested the hypothesis that CBPs may exert mitochondriotoxicity and tried to prevent toxicity in the presence of members of the antioxidative network. Stimulated neutrophils are able to degrade beta-carotene and to generate a number of CBPs.

Concerning mitochondriotoxicity, we found that CBPs strongly inhibit state 3 respiration of rat liver mitochondria at concentrations between 0.5 and 20 microM. This was true for retinal, beta-ionone, and for mixtures of cleavage/breakdown products.

The inhibition of mitochondrial respiration was accompanied by a reduction in protein sulfhydryl content, decreasing GSH levels and redox state, and elevated accumulation of malondialdehyde.

Changes in mitochondrial membrane potential favor functional deterioration in the adenine nucleotide translocator as a sensitive target.

The presence of additional antioxidants such as alpha-tocopherol, ascorbic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine or others could mitigate mitochondriotoxicity.

The findings reflect a basic mechanism of increasing the risk of cancer induced by carotenoid degradation products.



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