Compartmental and noncompartmental modeling of ¹³C-lycopene absorption, isomerization, and distribution kinetics in healthy adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1436-49. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103143. Epub 2015 Nov 11.


Background: Lycopene, which is a red carotenoid in tomatoes, has been hypothesized to mediate disease-preventive effects associated with tomato consumption. Lycopene is consumed primarily as the all-trans geometric isomer in foods, whereas human plasma and tissues show greater proportions of cis isomers.

Objective: With the use of compartmental modeling and stable isotope technology, we determined whether endogenous all-trans-to-cis-lycopene isomerization or isomeric-bioavailability differences underlie the greater proportion of lycopene cis isomers in human tissues than in tomato foods.

Design: Healthy men (n = 4) and women (n = 4) consumed (13)C-lycopene (10.2 mg; 82% all-trans and 18% cis), and plasma was collected over 28 d. Unlabeled and (13)C-labeled total lycopene and lycopene-isomer plasma concentrations, which were measured with the use of high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, were fit to a 7-compartment model.

Results: Subjects absorbed a mean ± SEM of 23% ± 6% of the lycopene. The proportion of plasma cis-(13)C-lycopene isomers increased over time, and all-trans had a shorter half-life than that of cis isomers (5.3 ± 0.3 and 8.8 ± 0.6 d, respectively; P < 0.001) and an earlier time to reach maximal plasma concentration than that of cis isomers (28 ± 7 and 48 ± 9 h, respectively). A compartmental model that allowed for interindividual differences in cis- and all-trans-lycopene bioavailability and endogenous trans-to-cis-lycopene isomerization was predictive of plasma (13)C and unlabeled cis- and all-trans-lycopene concentrations. Although the bioavailability of cis (24.5% ± 6%) and all-trans (23.2% ± 8%) isomers did not differ, endogenous isomerization (0.97 ± 0.25 μmol/d in the fast-turnover tissue lycopene pool) drove tissue and plasma isomeric profiles.

Conclusion: (13)C-Lycopene combined with physiologic compartmental modeling provides a strategy for following complex in vivo metabolic processes in humans and reveals that postabsorptive trans-to-cis-lycopene isomerization, and not the differential bioavailability of isomers, drives tissue and plasma enrichment of cis-lycopene. This trial was registered at as NCT01692340.

Keywords: compartmental modeling; isomers; kinetics; lycopene; tracers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antioxidants / analysis
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carotenoids / blood
  • Carotenoids / chemistry
  • Carotenoids / metabolism*
  • Dietary Supplements* / analysis
  • Female
  • Fruit / chemistry*
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Kinetics
  • Lycopene
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nutritive Value
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Young Adult


  • Antioxidants
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carotenoids
  • Lycopene

Associated data