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The basis for the vivid color of carotenoids and their antioxidant activity is the multiple conjugated double bonds, which are characteristic for these phytonutrients. Moreover, the cleavage of these oxidation-prone double bonds leads to the formation of apocarotenoids. A large number of carbonyl-containing oxidation products are expected to be produced as a result of carotenoid oxidation and these can be further metabolized into the corresponding acids and alcohols. As discussed in this review, many, but not all, of these potential products have been detected and identified in plants as well as in human and animal plasma and tissues. Some of these compounds were found to be biologically active as anticancer agents. In addition to the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, several carotenoid metabolites were shown to modulate the activity of various transcription systems. These include ligand-activated nuclear receptors, such as the retinoic acid receptor, retinoid X receptor, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor and estrogen receptor, as well as other transcription systems that have an important role in cancer, such as the electrophile/antioxidant response element pathway and nuclear factor-κB. Therefore, apocarotenoids can be considered as natural compounds with multifunctional, rather than monofunctional, activity and, thus, can be useful in the prevention of cancer and other degenerative diseases.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Nutr Food Res

Publication Date





259 - 269


Animals, Antineoplastic Agents, Carotenoids, Cell Proliferation, Food, Humans, NF-kappa B, Neoplasms, Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors, Receptors, Estrogen, Receptors, Retinoic Acid, Response Elements, Signal Transduction, Transcription Factors