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Why has Nature Chosen Lutein and Zeaxanthin to Protect the Retina? J Clin Exp Ophthalmol 2014 Feb 21;5(1):326



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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is associated with a low level of macular carotenoids in the eye retina. Only two carotenoids, namely lutein and zeaxanthin are selectively accumulated in the human eye retina from blood plasma where more than twenty other carotenoids are available. The third carotenoid which is found in the human retina, meso-zeaxanthin is formed directly in the retina from lutein. All these carotenoids, named also macular xanthophylls, play key roles in eye health and retinal disease. Macular xanthophylls are thought to combat light-induced damage mediated by reactive oxygen species by absorbing the most damaging incoming wavelength of light prior to the formation of reactive oxygen species (a function expected of carotenoids in nerve fibers) and by chemically and physically quenching reactive oxygen species once they are formed (a function expected of carotenoids in photoreceptor outer segments). There are two major hypotheses about the precise location of macular xanthophylls in the nerve fiber layer of photoreceptor axons and in photoreceptor outer segments. According to the first, macular xanthophylls transversely incorporate in the lipid-bilayer portion of membranes of the human retina. According to the second, macular xanthophylls are protein-bound by membrane-associated, xanthophyll-binding proteins. In this review we indicate specific properties of macular xanthophylls that could help explain their selective accumulation in the primate retina with special attention paid to xanthophyll-membrane interactions.

Author List

Widomska J, Subczynski WK


Witold K. Subczynski PhD Professor in the Biophysics department at Medical College of Wisconsin