Microalgal carotenoids and phytosterols regulate biochemical mechanisms involved in human health and disease prevention

Biochimie. 2019 Dec:167:106-118. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2019.09.012. Epub 2019 Sep 20.


Microalgae are photosynthetic microorganisms that produce numerous bioactive molecules that can be used as food supplement to prevent chronic disease installation. Indeed, they produce phycobiliproteins, polysaccharides, lipids, carotenoids and sterolic compounds. The use of microalgae in human nutrition provide a mixture of these molecules with synergistic effect. The aim of this review is to present the specific roles played by the xanthophylls, and specifically astaxanthin and fucoxanthin, two high added value carotenoids, and by microalgal phytosterols such as β-sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol on several cell mechanisms involved in the prevention of cardiometabolic diseases and cancers. This review explains how these microalgal molecules modulate cell signaling pathways involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolisms, inflammation, apoptosis, invasion and metastasis. Xanthophylls and phytosterols are involved in the reduction of inflammatory markers in relation with the regulation of the c-Jun N-terminal kinases and nuclear factor-kappa B signaling pathways, and suppression of production of pro-inflammatory mediators. Xanthophylls act on glucose and lipid metabolisms via both the upregulation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) and glucose transporters and its effects on the expression of enzymes involved in fatty acid synthesis and cholesterol metabolism. Their anti-cancer effects are related to the induction of intrinsic apoptosis due to down-regulation of key regulatory kinases. The anti-angiogenesis, anti-proliferative and anti-invasive effects are correlated with decreased production of endothelial growth factors and of matrix metalloproteinases. Phytosterols have a major role on cholesterol absorption via modification of the activities of Niemann-Pick C1 like 1 and ATP-binding cassette transporters and on cholesterol esterification. Their action are also related with the modulation of PPARs and sterol regulatory element-binding protein-1 activities.

Keywords: Cell signaling pathway regulation; Chronic disease prevention; Microalgae; Phytosterols; Xanthophylls.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism / drug effects
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Cholesterol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cholesterol / pharmacology
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Metabolic Diseases / prevention & control
  • Microalgae / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Phytosterols / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sitosterols / pharmacology*
  • Xanthophylls / pharmacology*


  • Phytosterols
  • Sitosterols
  • Xanthophylls
  • fucoxanthin
  • campesterol
  • gamma-sitosterol
  • astaxanthine
  • Cholesterol