The carotenoid lutein is thought to play a role in the human eye and to protect against age-related macular degeneration. Lutein transport in the human intestine has not been characterized. We examined lutein transport processes using Caco-2 TC-7 monolayers as a model for human intestinal epithelium. Purified lutein was mixed with phospholipids, lysophospholipids, cholesterol, mono-olein, oleic acid and taurocholate to obtain lutein-rich mixed micelles that mimicked those found under physiological conditions. The micelles were added to the apical side of Caco-2 TC-7 cell monolayers for 30 min or 3 h at 37 °C. Absorbed lutein, i.e. the sum of lutein recovered in the scraped cells and in the basolateral chamber, was quantified by HPLC. Transport rate was measured (i) as a function of time (from 15 to 60 min), (ii) as a function of micellar lutein concentration (from 1.5 to 15 μM), (iii) at 4 °C, (iv) in the basolateral to apical direction, (v) after trypsin pretreatment, (vi) in the presence of β-carotene and/or lycopene, (vii) in the presence of increasing concentrations of antibody against SR-BI (scavenger receptor class B type 1) and (viii) in the presence of increasing concentrations of a chemical inhibitor of the selective transfer of lipids mediated by SR-BI, i.e. BLT1 (blocks lipid transport 1). The rate of transport of lutein as a function of time and as a function of concentration was saturable. It was significantly lower at 4 °C than at 37 °C (approx. 50%), in the basal to apical direction than in the opposite direction (approx. 85%), and after trypsin pretreatment (up to 45%). Co-incubation with β-carotene, but not lycopene, decreased the lutein absorption rate (approx. 20%) significantly. Anti-SR-BI antibody and BLT1 significantly impaired the absorption rate (approx. 30% and 57% respectively). Overall, these results indicate that lutein absorption is, at least partly, protein-mediated and that some lutein is taken up through SR-BI.

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