Mitochondria combine the production of energy with an efficient chain of reduction-oxidation (redox) reactions but also with the unavoidable production of reactive oxygen species. Oxidative stress leading to mitochondrial dysfunction is a critical factor in many diseases, such as cancer and neurodegenerative and lifestyle-related diseases. Effective antioxidants thus offer great therapeutic and preventive promise. Investigating the efficacy of antioxidants, we found that a carotenoid, astaxanthin (AX), decreased physiologically occurring oxidative stress and protected cultured cells against strong oxidative stress induced with a respiratory inhibitor. Moreover, AX improved maintenance of a high mitochondrial membrane potential and stimulated respiration. Investigating how AX stimulates and interacts with mitochondria, a redox-sensitive fluorescent protein (roGFP1) was stably expressed in the cytosol and mitochondrial matrix to measure the redox state in the respective compartments. AX at nanomolar concentrations was effective in maintaining mitochondria in a reduced state. Additionally, AX improved the ability of mitochondria to remain in a reduced state under oxidative challenge. Taken together, these results suggest that AX is effective in improving mitochondrial function through retaining mitochondria in the reduced state.
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