Early studies demonstrating the ability of dietary carotenes to prevent infections have left open the possibility that the action of these carotenoids may be through their prior conversion to vitamin A. Subsequent studies to demonstrate the specific action of dietary carotenoids have used carotenoids without provitamin A activity such as lutein, canthaxanthin, lycopene and astaxanthin. In fact, these nonprovitamin A carotenoids were as active, and at times more active, than beta-carotene in enhancing cell-mediated and humoral immune response in animals and humans. Another approach to study the possible specific role of dietary carotenoids has used animals that are inefficient converters of carotenoids to vitamin A, for example the domestic cat. Results have similarly shown immuno-enhancement by nonprovitamin A carotenoids, based either on the relative activity or on the type of immune response affected compared to beta-carotene. Certain carotenoids, acting as antioxidants, can potentially reduce the toxic effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS, and therefore carotenoids, have been implicated in the etiology of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and aging. Recent studies on the role of carotenoids in gene regulation, apoptosis and angiogenesis have advanced our knowledge on the possible mechanism by which carotenoids regulate immune function and cancer.