Overview of mechanisms of action of lycopene

Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002 Nov;227(10):920-3. doi: 10.1177/153537020222701013.


Dietary intakes of tomatoes and tomato products containing lycopene have been shown to be associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases in numerous studies. Serum and tissue lycopene levels have also been inversely related to the risk of lung and prostate cancers. Lycopene functions as a very potent antioxidant, and this is clearly a major important mechanism of lycopene action. In this regard, lycopene can trap singlet oxygen and reduce mutagenesis in the Ames test. However, evidence is accumulating for other mechanisms as well. Lycopene at physiological concentrations can inhibit human cancer cell growth by interfering with growth factor receptor signaling and cell cycle progression specifically in prostate cancer cells without evidence of toxic effects or apoptosis of cells. Studies using human and animal cells have identified a gene, connexin 43, whose expression is upregulated by lycopene and which allows direct intercellular gap junctional communication (GJC). GJC is deficient in many human tumors and its restoration or upregulation is associated with decreased proliferation. The combination of low concentrations of lycopene with 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 exhibits a synergistic effect on cell proliferation and differentiation and an additive effect on cell cycle progression in the HL-60 promyelocytic leukemia cell line, suggesting some interaction at a nuclear or subcellular level. The combination of lycopene and lutein synergistically interact as antioxidants, and this may relate to specific positioning of different carotenoids in membranes. This review will focus on the growing body of evidence that carotenoids have unexpected biologic effects in experimental systems, some of which may contribute to their cancer preventive properties in models of carcinogenesis. Consideration of solubility in vitro, comparison with doses achieved in humans by dietary means, interactions with other phytochemicals, and other potential mechanisms such as stimulation of xenobiotic metabolism, inhibition of cholesterogenesis, modulation of cyclooxygenase pathways, and inhibition of inflammation will be considered. This review will point out areas for future research where more evidence is needed on the effects of lycopene on the etiology of chronic disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / metabolism*
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Carotenoids / metabolism*
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Lycopene
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / chemistry
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Xenobiotics
  • Carotenoids
  • Cholesterol
  • Lycopene