Lycopene inhibits ICAM-1 expression and NF-κB activation by Nrf2-regulated cell redox state in human retinal pigment epithelial cells

Life Sci. 2016 Jun 15:155:94-101. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2016.05.006. Epub 2016 May 4.


Aims: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common diseases leading to blindness in elderly people. The progression of AMD may be prevented through anti-inflammation and antioxidation in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells. Lycopene, a carotenoid, has been shown to possess both antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. This research was conducted to detail the mechanisms of these effects of lycopene-treated RPE cells.

Main methods: We exposed ARPE-19 cells to TNFα after pretreatment with lycopene, and measured monocyte adhesion, ICAM-1 expression, NF-κB nuclear translocation, and transcriptional activity. Cell viability was assayed with Alamar Blue. The cell redox state was tested by glutathione (GSH) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels. The importance of the Nrf2 pathway was tested in nuclear translocation, promoter reporter assay, and siRNA.

Key findings: Lycopene could reduce TNF-α-induced monocyte adhesion and H2O2- induced cell damage in RPE cells. Furthermore, lycopene inhibits ICAM-1 expression and abolishes NF-κB activation for up to 12h in TNFα-treated RPE cells. Lycopene upregulates Nrf2 levels in nuclear extracts and increases the transactivity of antioxidant response elements. The use of Nrf2 siRNA blocks the inhibitory effect of lycopene in TNF-α-induced ICAM-1 expression and NF-κB activation. Glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL) is the rate-limiting enzyme in the de novo synthesis of GSH. We found that lycopene increases intracellular GSH levels and GCL expression. Following lycopene treatment, TNF-α-induced ROS production was abolished.

Significance: The Nrf2-regulated antioxidant property plays a pivotal role in the anti-inflammatory mechanism underlying the inhibition of NF-κB activation in lycopene-treated ARPE-19 cells.

Keywords: Intercellular adhesion molecule-1; Lycopene; Nrf2; Nuclear factor-κB; Retinal pigment epithelial cell.

MeSH terms

  • Carotenoids / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / metabolism*
  • Lycopene
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / genetics
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism*
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / cytology
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / drug effects*
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / metabolism


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • NF-kappa B
  • NFE2L2 protein, human
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Carotenoids
  • Lycopene