The retinal carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein scavenge superoxide and hydroxyl radicals: a chemiluminescence and ESR study

Mol Vis. 2006 Sep 30;12:1127-35.


Purpose: Carotenoids are present in many biological systems, often decreasing the formation of products of oxidative damage to biological molecules. In the macula their concentration is so high that it has been believed that the yellow color filters out damaging blue light. Recent reports that dietary lutein reduces the risk of cataract in the eye lens suggested that the antioxidant action of carotenoids, which has been inferred from decreased oxidative damage, warranted further direct investigation.

Methods: Superoxide and hydroxyl radical scavenging by lutein and zeaxanthin (retinal carotenoids), beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein esters (from marigolds), and a commercial mixture of soy carotenoids were compared to scavenging by ascorbate and ascorbyl palmitate. Radical scavenging was measured with a chemiluminescent assay (luminol) and by electron spin resonance, ESR. Inhibitory concentrations, IC(50), were determined with the luminescent assay.

Results: All of the carotenoids scavenged both superoxide (in ESR 30-50% at 16.7 microM) and hydroxyl radicals (in ESR 50-70% at 16.7 microM, in a luminescent assay 90-99%).

Conclusions: While crocin may be unable to scavenge superoxide, some of the other carotenoids do so quite effectively. The mixtures of 15,15'-cis and all-trans-carotenoids studied by ESR and luminescent assay scavenge both superoxide and hydroxyl radicals. Lycopene and beta-carotene both scavenge superoxide more effectively than the xanthophylls of the retina, zeaxanthin and lutein. All of the carotenoids examined scavenged the hydroxyl radicals more effectively than superoxide radicals. The predominant carotenoid in the fovea of the retina, zeaxanthin, scavenged hydroxyl radicals more effectively than the other retinal carotenoid, lutein. Possible mechanisms of radical scavenging by the carotenoids are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Free Radical Scavengers / metabolism
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology*
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Hydroxyl Radical / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Lutein / metabolism
  • Lutein / pharmacology*
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Superoxides / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Ultraviolet Rays
  • Xanthophylls / metabolism
  • Xanthophylls / pharmacology*
  • Zeaxanthins


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • Superoxides
  • Hydroxyl Radical
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Lutein