Astaxanthin alleviates oxidative stress insults-related derangements in human vascular endothelial cells exposed to glucose fluctuations

Life Sci. 2016 Apr 1;150:24-31. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2016.02.087. Epub 2016 Feb 27.


Glycemic fluctuations may play a critical role in the pathogenesis of diabetic complications, such as cardiovascular disease. We investigated whether the oxycarotenoid astaxanthin can reduce the detrimental effects of fluctuating glucose on vascular endothelial cells. Human umbilical venous endothelial cells were incubated for 3 days in media containing 5.5mM glucose, 22 mM glucose, or 5.5mM glucose alternating with 22 mM glucose in the absence or presence of astaxanthin or N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC). Constant high glucose increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, but such an effect was more pronounced in fluctuating glucose. This was associated with up-regulated p22(phox) expression and down-regulated peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-γ coactivator (PGC-1α) expression. Astaxanthin inhibited ROS generation, p22(phox) up-regulation, and PGC-1α down-regulation by the stimuli of glucose fluctuation. Fluctuating glucose, but not constant high glucose, significantly decreased the endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) phosphorylation level at Ser-1177 without affecting total eNOS expression, which was prevented by astaxanthin as well as by the anti-oxidant NAC. Transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) showed increased cell apoptosis in fluctuating glucose. Glucose fluctuation also resulted in up-regulating gene expression of pro-inflammatory mediators, interleukin-6 and intercellular adhesion molecule-1. These adverse changes were subdued by astaxanthin. The phosphorylation levels of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and p38 were significantly increased by glucose fluctuations, and astaxanthin significantly inhibited the increase in JNK and p38 phosphorylation. Taken together, our results suggest that astaxanthin can protect vascular endothelial cells against glucose fluctuation by reducing ROS generation.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Astaxanthin; Endothelial cells; Endothelial nitric oxide synthase; Glucose fluctuation; Reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glucose / pharmacology*
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / biosynthesis
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics
  • NADPH Oxidases / biosynthesis
  • NADPH Oxidases / genetics
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / biosynthesis
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Xanthophylls / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • PPARGC1A protein, human
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Transcription Factors
  • Xanthophylls
  • astaxanthine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • NADPH Oxidases
  • CYBA protein, human
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Glucose
  • Acetylcysteine