Water-dispersible beadlets of carotenoids were used as supplements for human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and human monocytes. Stability, cellular association and cytotoxicity of the carotenoid beadlets were compared with carotenoids delivered with tetrahydrofuran (THF). Incubations with lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein and astaxanthin dissolved in THF resulted in a lower stability in the medium, lower cellular association, and a higher standard deviation. Beadlets provided 60, 4, 6, and 2 times greater accumulation of lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein and astaxanthin, respectively, by PBMCs than THF. The cellular association of carotenoids delivered by THF seems to be more carotenoid-specific than when carotenoids are delivered by beadlets. After 48 h of incubation under cell culture conditions all of the four carotenoids (1 microM) delivered by beadlets to the medium showed a reduction less than 30%. In addition, no cytotoxic effect of the carotenoid beadlets or the vehicle alone was detected in a concentration range of 0.5-5 microM. The results show that beadlets are a non-toxic vehicle for supplementing and stabilizing carotenoids in culture media offering a reasonable compromise in term of cell accumulation efficiency.