The present study was designed to investigate the question of whether or not astaxanthin improves stem cell potency via an increase in proliferation of neural progenitor cells (NPCs). Treatment with astaxanthin significantly increased proliferation and colony formation of NPCs. For identification of possible activated signaling molecules involved in active cell proliferation occurring after astaxanthin treatment, total protein levels of several proliferation-related proteins, and expression levels of proliferation-related transcription factors, were assessed in NPCs. In Western blot analysis, astaxanthin induced significant activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) and its downstream mediators in a time-dependent manner. Results of RT-PCR analysis showed upregulation of proliferation-related transcription factors and stemness genes. To estimate the relevance of PI3K and mitogen-activated protein, or extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase (MEK) signaling pathways in cell growth of astaxanthin-treated NPCs, inhibition assays were performed with LY294002, a specific inhibitor of PI3K, and PD98059, a specific inhibitor of MEK, respectively. These results clearly showed that astaxanthin induces proliferation of NPCs via activation of the PI3K and MEK signaling pathways and improves stem cell potency via stemness acting signals.
Keywords: PI3K; astaxanthin; neural progenitor cells; proliferation; stem cell.