Lucas, A., Morales, J. & Velando, A. Differential effects of specific carotenoids on oxidative damage and immune response of gull chicks. Journal of Experimental Biology 217, 1253–1262 (2014).
Micronutrients are essential for normal metabolic processes during early development. Specifically, it has been suggested that diet-derived carotenoids can play a key role in physiological functions because of their antioxidant and immunostimulant properties. However, their role as antioxidants remains controversial. Additionally, it is also unclear whether oxidative stress mediates their immunostimulatory effects. In this field study, we separately supplemented yellow-legged gull (Larus michahellis) chicks with two carotenoids (lutein and β-carotene) with different molecular structures and different transformation pathways into other oxidative forms of carotenoids. We quantified their effect on the oxidative status and the immune response of chicks before and after an oxidative challenge with paraquat, a pro-oxidant molecule. Prior to oxidative challenge, none of the carotenoid treatments affected the oxidative status of chicks, but they enhanced the inflammatory response to an antigen compared with controls. The oxidative challenge enhanced plasma vitamin E levels (but not in β-carotene-supplemented chicks) and the antioxidant capacity in the short term. Interestingly, lutein-supplemented chicks showed lower oxidative damage to proteins than non-lutein-supplemented chicks. After the oxidative challenge, the positive effect of carotenoid supplementation on the immune response disappeared. Thus, these results suggest differential effects of two carotenoids with different molecular structures on the oxidative status. Lutein but not β-carotene helps to combat oxidative damage after a free-radical exposure. Additionally, the results indicate that the immunostimulatory effects of carotenoids are linked to oxidative status during early life.