Research Update: Lutein is the predominant carotenoid in the infant brain: Preterm infants have decreased concentrations of brain carotenoids

This is the first study to characterize the distribution of carotenoids in the infant brain, and compare concentrations in preterm and term infants.

Lutein is a carotenoid which cannot be synthesised de novo, and has potent antioxidant properties. It accumulates in the macular region of the retina and is responsible for central vision acuity. Lutein has also been found to be the main carotenoid in the brain of older adults, and previous studies have reported that it may have a role in cognitive function.

To understand the possible role of lutein in early neural development, researchers took the first step of determining the distribution of carotenoids in the brain tissue of infants. Published online in March 2014 in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition ,their study utilised donated brain tissue samples of healthy infants (n=30) who died during the first 1.5 years of life. Decedents included both preterm and term infants, and tissues were obtained from different regions of the brain associated with memory, executive function, hearing and vision.

Analysis indicated that the mean concentration of lutein was significantly greater than the other carotenoids in all the brain regions analysed, accounting for more than half of total brain carotenoids. The extent of lutein predominance observed exceeded that previously seen in older adults, despite the brief duration of exposure of the infant decedents to a diet typically low in lutein. This suggests that infants’ brains preferentially accumulate and maintain lutein. Preterm infants however had a significantly lower concentration of lutein in their brain compared to term infants. Reasons may include an inadequate intake, limited in utero accretion of lutein, or deficits in cortical structure/mechanisms required for carotenoid uptake in the brain due to premature birth.

The researchers concluded that findings from this study provide a rationale to further examine the impact of lutein intake on the neural development of infants.


Last updated on 27 May 2014

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