Many birds acquire carotenoid pigments from the diet that they deposit into feathers and bare parts to develop extravagant sexual coloration. Although biologists have shown interest in both the mechanisms and function of these colorful displays, the carotenoids ingested and processed by these birds are poorly described. Here we document the carotenoid-pigment profile in the diet, blood and tissue of captive male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Dietary carotenoids including: lutein; zeaxanthin; and beta-cryptoxanthin were also present in the plasma, liver, adipose tissue and egg-yolk. These were accompanied in the blood and tissues by a fourth pigment, 2',3'-anhydrolutein, that was absent from the diet. To our knowledge, this is the first reported documentation of anhydrolutein in any avian species; among animals, it has been previously described only in human skin and serum and in fish liver. We also identified anhydrolutein in the plasma of two closely related estrildid finch species (Estrilda astrild and Sporaeginthus subflavus). Anhydrolutein was the major carotenoid found in zebra finch serum and liver, but did not exceed the concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin in adipose tissue or egg yolk. Whereas the percent composition of zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin were similar between diet and plasma, lutein was comparatively less abundant in plasma than in the diet. Lutein also was proportionally deficient in plasma from birds that circulated a higher percentage of anhydrolutein. These results suggest that zebra finches metabolically derive anhydrolutein from dietary sources of lutein. The production site and physiological function of anhydrolutein have yet to be determined.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Inc.