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Cellular & Molecular Biology Letters

Open Access

Interactions between canthaxanthin and lipid membranes — possible mechanisms of canthaxanthin toxicity

Cellular & Molecular Biology LettersAn International Journal200914:10

Received: 25 August 2008

Accepted: 5 February 2009

Published: 12 February 2009


Canthaxanthin (β, β-carotene 4, 4′ dione) is used widely as a drug or as a food and cosmetic colorant, but it may have some undesirable effects on human health, mainly caused by the formation of crystals in the macula lutea membranes of the retina. This condition is called canthaxanthin retinopathy. It has been shown that this type of dysfunction of the eye is strongly connected with damage to the blood vessels around the place of crystal deposition. This paper is a review of the experimental data supporting the hypothesis that the interactions of canthaxanthin with the lipid membranes and the aggregation of this pigment may be the factors enhancing canthaxanthin toxicity towards the macula vascular system. All the results of the experiments that have been done on model systems such as monolayers of pure canthaxanthin and mixtures of canthaxanthin and lipids, oriented bilayers or liposomes indicate a very strong effect of canthaxanthin on the physical properties of lipid membranes, which may explain its toxic action, which leads to the further development of canthaxanthin retinopathy.

Key words

CanthaxanthinRetinopathy Macula lutea Model lipid membranesMolecular interactions