Ligand-binding characterization of xanthophyll carotenoids to solubilized membrane proteins derived from human retina

Alexander Yu Yemelyanov, Nikita B. Katz, Paul S. Bernstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The macula of the human retina contains extraordinarily high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin, xanthophyll carotenoids that appear to play an important role in protecting against age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among the elderly. It is likely that the uptake and stabilization of these carotenoids is mediated by specific xanthophyll-binding proteins. In order to purify and characterize such a binding protein, a carotenoid-rich membrane fraction derived from human macula or peripheral retina was prepared by homogenization, differential centrifugation, and detergent solubilization. Further purification was carried out using ion-exchange chromatography and gelfiltration chromatography coupled with continuous photodiode-array monitoring for endogenously associated xanthophyll carotenoids. The most highly purified preparations contained two major protein bands at 25 and 55 kDa that consistently co-eluted with endogenous lutein and zeaxanthin. The visible absorbance spectrum of the binding protein preparation closely matches the spectral absorbance of the human macular pigment, and it is bathochromically shifted about 10 nm from the spectrum of lutein and zeaxanthin dissolved in organic solvents. Binding of exogenously added lutein and zeaxanthin is saturable and specific with an apparent Kd of approximately 1 μM. Canthaxanthin and β-carotene exhibit no significant binding activity to solubilized retinal membrane proteins when assayed under identical conditions. Other potential mammalian xanthophyll-binding proteins such as albumin, tubulin, lactoglobulin and serum lipoproteins possess only weak non-specific binding affinity for carotenoids when assayed under the same stringent binding conditions. This investigation provides the first direct evidence for the existence of specific xanthophyll-binding protein(s) in the vertebrate retina and macula. The possible roles of xanthophyll-binding proteins in normal macular function and in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration remain to be elucidated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-392
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental eye research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Binding protein
  • Carotenoid
  • Chromatography
  • Lutein
  • Macula
  • Macular pigment
  • Membrane proteins
  • Protein purification
  • Retina
  • Xanthophyll
  • Zeaxanthin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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