Oral bioavailability of natural and synthetic carotenoids is generally poor in rodents, and this has limited the ability to test these antioxidant compounds in well-defined rodent models of human disease. Various strategies have been employed, with variable success, to increase the percentage of the total oral dose absorbed by the rodent GI tract. In the current study, a novel carotenoid derivative (the disodium disuccinate diester of astaxanthin; Heptax) was administered by oral gavage in a lipophilic emulsion to C57BL/6 mice. Plasma appearance and tissue accumulation of non-esterified, free astaxanthin was studied by HPLC over 72 h after single- and multiple-dose regimens. One-time dosing of Heptax in emulsion at 500 mg/kg resulted in significant appearance of free astaxanthin in plasma (Cmax=0.2 mg/l; 381 nM) and accumulation in solid organs (e.g. liver Cmax=0.9 mg/l; 1735 nM), levels not previously reported after single carotenoid doses in rodents. At each point in the concentration/time curve (AUC), free astaxanthin levels in liver were greater than the corresponding concentration in plasma, suggesting concentrative uptake by the liver. As the ED50 as an antioxidant for non-esterified, free astaxanthin in model systems is approximately 200 nM, the current results suggest that hepatoprotection against oxidative insults may be achieved after a single dose of Heptax in these animals. In humans, where the bioavailability of oral carotenoids ranges from 40 to 60% of the total dose when given in lipophilic vehicle, much smaller oral doses may be utilized for therapeutic benefit in a particular clinical application.