The Bioavailability of Astaxanthin Is Dependent on Both the Source and the Isomeric Variants of the Molecule

Myriam MIMOUN-BENARROCH, Cindy HOGOT, Larbi RHAZI, Claude Narcisse NIAMBA, Flore DEPEINT


Astaxanthin is a marine carotenoid that has a number of potential health benefits, including a very strong antioxidant potential. Present in the flesh of salmonids and shellfish, its natural sources currently on the market for food supplements come from the algae Haematococcus pluvialis and krill. However other natural sources can be found and may be of interest. Cellular uptake studies were performed on Caco-2/TC7 colonic cells. The cells were cultured on a semi-permeable membrane to create a polarized and functional epithelium, representative of the intestinal barrier. Four sources of astaxanthin were selected and compared; synthetic, natural extracts from bacteria, algae or yeast. Astaxanthin was incorporated at a concentration of 5µM into mixed micelles and applied to cultured cells and concentration of astaxanthin measured by HPLC in both apical and basolateral compartments. Small variations in bioavailability were observed at 3 hours. After 6 hours, only the algae source of astaxanthin was still present in the apical compartment as the esterified form. Structure-activity relationships are further discussed. Animal experiments using yeast and algae sources in different types of matrices confirm the role of source and formulation in the bioavailability potential of astaxanthin.


astaxanthin, bioavailability, Caco-2 cells, carotenoids, lipid metabolism

Full Text:



Ambati, R. R., Phang, S.-M., Ravi, S., & Aswathanarayana, R. G. (2014). Astaxanthin: Sources, Extraction, Stability, Biological Activities and Its Commercial Applications—A Review. Marine Drugs, 12(1), 128–152.

Annaert, P., Kinget, R., Naesens, L., de Clercq, E., & Augustijns, P. (1997). Transport, uptake, and metabolism of the bis(pivaloyloxymethyl)-ester prodrug of 9-(2-phosphonylmethoxyethyl)adenine in an in vitro cell culture system of the intestinal mucosa (Caco-2). Pharmaceutical Research, 14(4), 492–496.

Armand, M., Borel, P., Pasquier, B., Dubois, C., Senft, M., Andre, M., …

Lairon, D. (1996). Physicochemical characteristics of emulsions during fat digestion in human stomach and duodenum. The American Journal of Physiology, 271(1 Pt 1), G172-183.

Chitchumroonchokchai, C., & Failla, M. L. (2006). Hydrolysis of zeaxanthin esters by carboxyl ester lipase during digestion facilitates micellarization and uptake of the xanthophyll by Caco-2 human intestinal cells. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(3), 588–594.

Coral-Hinostroza, G. N., Ytrestøyl, T., Ruyter, B., & Bjerkeng, B. (2004). Plasma appearance of unesterified astaxanthin geometrical E/Z and optical R/S isomers in men given single doses of a mixture of optical 3 and 3’R/S isomers of astaxanthin fatty acyl diesters. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. Toxicology & Pharmacology: CBP, 139(1–3), 99–110.

During, A., Dawson, H. D., & Harrison, E. H. (2005). Carotenoid transport is decreased and expression of the lipid transporters SR-BI, NPC1L1, and ABCA1 is downregulated in Caco-2 cells treated with ezetimibe. The Journal of Nutrition, 135(10), 2305–2312.

Furr, H. C., & Clark, R. M. (1997). Intestinal absorption and tissue distribution of carotenoids. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 8(7), 364–377.

Ikeda, I., Mitsui, K., Matsuoka, R., Hamada, T., Imabayashi, S., Uchino, A., … Imaizumi, K. (2003). Cholesterol esterase bound to intestinal brush border membranes does not accelerate incorporation of micellar cholesterol into absorptive cells. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 67(11), 2381–2387.

Lairon, D., Defoort, C., Martin, J.-C., Amiot-Carlin, M.-J., Gastaldi, M., & Planells, R. (2009). Nutrigenetics: links between genetic background and response to Mediterranean-type diets. Public Health Nutrition, 12(9A), 1601–1606.

Lorenz, R. T., & Cysewski, G. R. (2000). Commercial potential for Haematococcus microalgae as a natural source of astaxanthin. Trends in Biotechnology, 18(4), 160–167.

Lyons, N. M., & O’Brien, N. M. (2002). Modulatory effects of an algal extract containing astaxanthin on UVA-irradiated cells in culture. Journal of Dermatological Science, 30(1), 73–84.

Mascio, P. D., Kaiser, S. P., Devasagayam, T. P. A., & Sies, H. (1991). Biological Significance of Active Oxygen Species: In Vitro Studies on Singlet Oxygen-Induced DNA Damage and on the Singlet Oxygen Quenching Ability of Carotenoids, Tocopherols and Thiols. In C. M. Witmer, R. R. Snyder, D. J. Jollow, G. F. Kalf, J. J. Kocsis, & I. G. Sipes (Eds.), Biological Reactive Intermediates IV (pp. 71–77). Springer New York.

Mercke Odeberg, J., Lignell, Å., Pettersson, A., & Höglund, P. (2003). Oral bioavailability of the antioxidant astaxanthin in humans is enhanced by incorporation of lipid based formulations. European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 19(4), 299–304.

Mimoun-Benarroch, M., Margotat, A., Garcia, C., Jourdheuil-Rahmani, D.,

Malezet, C., & Armand, M. (2011). P092 Contribution respective des micelles mixtes de sels biliaires et des liposomes dans l’absorption de l’acide oléique et du cholestérol libre par le modèle CACO2-TC7. Nutrition Clinique et Métabolisme, 25, S97.

Okada, Y., Ishikura, M., & Maoka, T. (2009). Bioavailability of astaxanthin in Haematococcus algal extract: the effects of timing of diet and smoking habits. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 73(9), 1928–1932.

Østerlie, M., Bjerkeng, B., & Liaaen-Jensen, S. (2000). Plasma appearance and distribution of astaxanthin E/Z and R/S isomers in plasma lipoproteins of men after single dose administration of astaxanthin. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 11(10), 482–490.

O’Sullivan, L., Ryan, L., & O’Brien, N. (2007). Comparison of the uptake and secretion of carotene and xanthophyll carotenoids by Caco-2 intestinal cells. The British Journal of Nutrition, 98(1), 38–44.

O’Sullivan, S. M., Woods, J. A., & O’Brien, N. M. (2004). Use of Tween 40 and Tween 80 to deliver a mixture of phytochemicals to human colonic adenocarcinoma cell (CaCo-2) monolayers. The British Journal of Nutrition, 91(5), 757–764.

Reboul, E. (2013). Absorption of vitamin A and carotenoids by the enterocyte: focus on transport proteins. Nutrients, 5(9), 3563–3581.

Reboul, E., Abou, L., Mikail, C., Ghiringhelli, O., André, M., Portugal, H., … Borel, P. (2005). Lutein transport by Caco-2 TC-7 cells occurs partly by a facilitated process involving the scavenger receptor class B type I (SR-BI). The Biochemical Journal, 387(Pt 2), 455–461.

Shen, H., Howles, P., & Tso, P. (2001). From interaction of lipidic vehicles with intestinal epithelial cell membranes to the formation and secretion of chylomicrons. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, 50 Suppl 1, S103-125.

Spalinger, J. H., Seidman, E. G., Ménard, D., & Levy, E. (1998). Endogenous lipase activity in Caco-2 cells. Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta, 1393(1), 119–127.

Storebakken, T., Foss, P., Austreng, E., & Liaaen-Jensen, S. (1985). Carotenoids in diets for salmonids. Aquaculture, 44(4), 259–269.

Sugawara, T., Baskaran, V., Tsuzuki, W., & Nagao, A. (2002). Brown algae fucoxanthin is hydrolyzed to fucoxanthinol during absorption by Caco-2 human intestinal cells and mice. The Journal of Nutrition, 132(5), 946–951.

Sugawara, T., Yamashita, K., Asai, A., Nagao, A., Shiraishi, T., Imai, I., & Hirata, T. (2009). Esterification of xanthophylls by human intestinal Caco-2 cells. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 483(2), 205–212.

Sy, C., Gleize, B., Dangles, O., Landrier, J.-F., Veyrat, C. C., & Borel, P. (2012). Effects of physicochemical properties of carotenoids on their bioaccessibility, intestinal cell uptake, and blood and tissue concentrations. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 56(9), 1385–1397.

Terao, J. (1989). Antioxidant activity of β-carotene-related carotenoids in solution. Lipids, 24(7), 659–661.

Tinkler, J. H., Böhm, F., Schalch, W., & Truscott, T. G. (1994). Dietary carotenoids protect human cells from damage. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 26(3), 283–285.

Vincent, S., Planells, R., Defoort, C., Bernard, M.-C., Gerber, M., Prudhomme, J., … Lairon, D. (2002). Genetic polymorphisms and lipoprotein responses to diets. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 61(4), 427–434.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine
3-5 Manastur St., 400372 Cluj-Napoca
Tel: +40-264-596.384 | Fax: +40-264-593.792