Carotenoid metabolism at the intestinal barrier

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Cell Biol Lipids. 2020 Nov;1865(11):158580. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2019.158580. Epub 2019 Nov 30.


Carotenoids exert a rich variety of physiological functions in mammals and are beneficial for human health. These lipids are acquired from the diet and metabolized to apocarotenoids, including retinoids (vitamin A and its metabolites). The small intestine is a major site for their absorption and bioconversion. From here, carotenoids and their metabolites are distributed within the body in triacylglycerol-rich lipoproteins to support retinoid signaling in peripheral tissues and photoreceptor function in the eyes. In recent years, much progress has been made in identifying carotenoid metabolizing enzymes, transporters, and binding proteins. A diet-responsive regulatory network controls the activity of these components and adapts carotenoid absorption and bioconversion to the bodily requirements of these lipids. Genetic variability in the genes encoding these components alters carotenoid homeostasis and is associated with pathologies. We here summarize the advanced state of knowledge about intestinal carotenoid metabolism and its impact on carotenoid and retinoid homeostasis of other organ systems, including the eyes, liver, and immune system. The implication of the findings for science-based intake recommendations for these essential dietary lipids is discussed. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Carotenoids recent advances in cell and molecular biology edited by Johannes von Lintig and Loredana Quadro.

Keywords: Abbreviations; Apocarotenoid; Carotenoid; Intestine; Metabolism; Retinoid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carotenoids / metabolism*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / genetics
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Lipids / genetics*
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Triglycerides / metabolism
  • Vitamin A / genetics
  • Vitamin A / metabolism*


  • Lipids
  • Triglycerides
  • Vitamin A
  • Carotenoids