Astaxanthin (ASTX), a carotenoid with potent antioxidant properties, exists naturally in various plants, algae, and seafoods. In this study, we investigated the in vitro ability of ASTX to protect porcine lens crystalline from oxidative damage by iron-mediated hydroxyl radicals or by calcium ion-activated protease (calpain), in addition to the possible underlying biochemical mechanisms. ASTX (1 mM) was capable of protecting lens crystalline from being oxidized, as measured by changes in tryptophan fluorescence, in the presence of a Fenton reaction solution containing 0.2 mM Fe 2+ and 2 mM H 2O 2. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis analysis demonstrated that β high-crystallin was the most vulnerable protein under these conditions of free radical exposure. The proteolysis of lens crystalline induced by calcium ion-activated calpain was also inhibited by ASTX (0.03-1 mM) as determined by daily measurement of the light-scattering intensity at 405 nm for five consecutive days. ASTX at 1 mM was as potent as a concentration of 0.1 mM calpain inhibitor E64 in protecting the oxidative damage/hydrolysis of porcine crystalline. At a concentration of 1 mM, ASTX provided better protection than the endogenous antioxidant glutathione in terms of suppressing calcium-induced turbidity of lens proteins. Thin-layer chromatography analysis indicated that ASTX interacted with calcium ions to form complexes, which we believe interfere with the hydrolysis of lens crystalline by calcium-activated calpain. This in vitro study shows that ASTX is capable of protecting porcine lens proteins from oxidative insults and degradation by calcium-induced calpain.
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