Purpose: Premature infants at risk of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) miss placental transfer of the carotenoids lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) during the third trimester. We previously demonstrated that prenatal L and Z supplementation raised carotenoid levels in infants at birth in the Lutein and Zeaxanthin in Pregnancy (L-ZIP) study (NCT03750968). Based on their antioxidant effects and bioavailability, we hypothesized that prenatal maternal supplementation with macular carotenoids would reduce the risk of ROP. To test this hypothesis, we utilized "macular pigment mice" genetically engineered to take up L and Z into the retina in a model of oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR).
Methods: Pregnant Bco2-/- mice were divided into nine experimental subgroups based on the type of supplementation (L, Z, or placebo) and on the maternal supplementation start date corresponding to the three trimesters of human fetal development (E0, E11, and P1). Pups and nursing mothers were exposed to 75% O2 for 5 days (P7-P12) and returned to room air for 5 days (P12-P17). Pups were killed at P12 and P17, and their retinas were analyzed for vaso-obliteration and intravitreal neovascularization.
Results: Pups of pregnant mice supplemented with L or Z had significant reductions in areas of vaso-obliteration and intravitreal neovascularization compared to placebo. Prenatal carotenoid supplementation starting at E0 or E11 was significantly more protective against OIR than postnatal supplementation starting at P1.
Conclusions: Prenatal supplementation with L and Z was beneficial in a mouse OIR model. We recommend testing prenatal L and Z supplementation in future human clinical trials to prevent ROP.