Low doses of beta-carotene and lutein inhibit AOM-induced rat colonic ACF formation but high doses augment ACF incidence

Int J Cancer. 2005 Feb 20;113(5):798-802. doi: 10.1002/ijc.20640.


Epidemiological studies suggest that carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lutein play an important role in reducing the risk for several cancers. However, in colon cancer there is ambiguity with regard to the role of these compounds in that both preventive effects and tumor promotion have been observed. In the present study we observed that male F344 rats were able to tolerate up to 2,500 ppm of beta-carotene as well as of lutein. We have then assessed the chemopreventive efficacy of beta-carotene and lutein at dose levels of approximately 4 and 8% of the 2,500 ppm tolerated dose (TD) and also approximately 40 and 80% of the TD on azoxymethane (AOM)-induced colon carcinogenesis, using aberrant crypt foci (ACF) as a surrogate biomarker for colon cancer. Throughout the experiments, 5-week-old male F344 rats were fed the control diet (modified AIN-76A) or experimental diets containing 100 or 200 ppm (approximately 4 or 8% of the 2,500 ppm TD), or 1,000 or 2,000 ppm ( approximately 40 or 80% of the 2,500 ppm TD) of beta-carotene and lutein (n=10 rats/group). After 2 weeks on the experimental or control diets, all animals were injected with AOM (15 mg/kg body wt., once weekly for 2 weeks). At 14 weeks of age, all rats were killed, and their colons were evaluated for ACF. Administration of 100 or 200 ppm of beta-carotene inhibited AOM-induced total colonic ACF formation by 24% (p<0.01) and 36% (p<0.001), respectively, whereas lutein at 200 ppm produced a 27% inhibition (p<0.01) yet had no significant effect at the 100 ppm dose level. Surprisingly, administration of 1,000 or 2,000 ppm of beta-carotene and lutein increased colonic ACF formation in a dose-dependent manner, i.e., to 124% and 144% for the former and 110% and 159% for the latter. These results clearly suggest that further studies are warranted to determine whether the increase in ACF incidence by high doses of beta-carotene and lutein will also lead to an increase in tumor outcome. Taken together these data indicate that the chemopreventive activity of beta-carotene and lutein against colon carcinogenesis depends on the dose level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Azoxymethane / toxicity
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Chemoprevention
  • Colonic Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Colonic Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Diet
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Lutein / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Precancerous Conditions / chemically induced
  • Precancerous Conditions / prevention & control*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • beta Carotene / therapeutic use*


  • Antioxidants
  • Carcinogens
  • beta Carotene
  • Azoxymethane
  • Lutein