The xanthophylls lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) are the primary components of macular pigment (MP) and may protect the macula from age-related degeneration (AMD). In this study, L or Z was fed to rhesus monkeys reared on xanthophyll-free diets to follow the accumulation of serum carotenoids and MP over time.
Eighteen rhesus monkeys were fed xanthophyll-free semipurified diets from birth until 7 to 16 years. The diets of six were then supplemented with pure L and six with pure Z at 3.9 micromol/kg per day (2.2 mg/kg per day) for 24 to 56 weeks. At baseline and 4- to 12-week intervals during supplementation, serum carotenoids were measured by HPLC, and MP density was estimated by two-wavelength reflectometry. Serum carotenoids and MP were also measured in monkeys fed a stock diet.
Monkeys fed xanthophyll-free diets had no L or Z in serum and no detectable MP. During supplementation, serum L or Z increased rapidly over the first 4 weeks and from 16 weeks onward maintained similar levels, both several times higher than in stock-diet-fed monkeys. The central peak of MP optical density increased to a relatively steady level by 24 to 32 weeks in both L- and Z-fed groups. Rhesus monkeys fed a stock diet had lower blood concentrations of L than those found in humans and other nonhuman primates.
Rhesus monkeys respond to either dietary L or Z supplementation with increases in serum xanthophylls and MP, even after life-long xanthophyll deficiency. These animals provide a potential model to study mechanisms of protection from AMD.