Major carotenoids of human plasma and tissues were exposed to radical- initiated autoxidation conditions. The consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin, the only carotenoids in the retina, and lycopene and β-carotene, the most effective quenchers of singlet oxygen in plasma, were compared. Under all conditions of free radical-initiated autoxidation of carotenoids which were investigated, the breakdown of lycopene and β-carotene was much faster than that of lutein and zeaxanthin. Under the influence of UV light in presence of Rose Bengal, by far the highest breakdown rate was found for β-carotene, followed by lycopene. Bleaching of carotenoid mixtures mediated by NaOCl, addition of azo-bis-isobutyronitril (AIBN), and the photoirradiation of carotenoid mixtures by natural sunlight lead to the following sequence of breakdown rates: lycopene >β-carotene > zeaxanthin > lutein. The slow degradation of the xanthophylls zeaxanthin and lutein may be suggested to explain the majority of zeaxanthin and lutein in the retina of man and other species. In correspondence to that, the rapid degradation of β-carotene and lycopene under the influence of natural sunlight and UV light is postulated to be the reason for the almost lack of those two carotenoids in the human retina. Nevertheless, a final proof of that theory is lacking.
- UV light