What do we know about the macular pigment in AMD: the past, the present, and the future

Eye (Lond). 2018 May;32(5):992-1004. doi: 10.1038/s41433-018-0044-0. Epub 2018 Mar 26.


Carotenoids are lipophilic isoprenoid pigments with a common C40H56 core chemical structure that are naturally synthesized by many plants, algae, bacteria, and fungi. Humans and animals cannot synthesize carotenoids de novo and must obtain them solely through dietary sources. Among the more than 750 carotenoids in nature, only lutein, zeaxanthin, meso-zeaxanthin, and their oxidative metabolites selectively accumulate in the foveal region of the retina where they are collectively referred to as the macular pigment (MP) of the macula lutea. MP serves an ocular protective role through its ability to filter phototoxic blue light radiation and also via its antioxidant activity. These properties have led to the hypothesis that carotenoids may protect against the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in the aged population >60 years old. Epidemiological studies have supported this by showing that patients with lower concentrations of serum carotenoids and macular pigment optical density (MPOD) measurements are at a higher risk of developing AMD. Conversely, nutritional supplementation and diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin readily impact MP concentrations and reduce the risk of progression to advanced AMD, and the AREDS2 supplement formulation containing 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin is the standard-of-care recommendation for individuals at risk for visual loss from advanced AMD. This article reviews the rich history of research on the MP dating back to the 1700s and outlines their potential for further therapeutic improvements for AMD in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration / metabolism*
  • Macular Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Macular Pigment / chemistry
  • Macular Pigment / metabolism
  • Macular Pigment / physiology*
  • Ophthalmology / trends*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Visual Acuity / physiology


  • Macular Pigment