1021-4437/03/5002- $25.00 © 2003
Russian Journal of Plant Physiology, Vol. 50, No. 2, 2003, pp. 168–172. From Fiziologiya Rastenii, Vol. 50, No. 2, 2003, pp. 188–193.
Original English Text Copyright © 2003 by Strza ka, Kostecka-Guga a, Latowski.l
Carotenoids—yellow, orange, and red pigments,
belong to tetraterpenes, a group of isoprenoids. Due to
the presence of the conjugated double bond system,
they absorb light in the range of 350–500 nm. Over 600
carotenoids occurring in plants, fungi, bacteria and ani-
mals, including humans, have been described.
Carotenoids were intensively studied during recent
30 years and many functions and associations of these
pigments were documented. Among the ﬁrst studied
were the antenna and photoprotective functions of car-
otenoids in photosynthesis. Under low light conditions,
carotenoids may act as energetic antennae, harvesting
light at the wavelengths not absorbed by chlorophylls
and transferring electron excitation states towards pho-
tochemical reaction centers. In this way, they widen the
range of light used in photosynthesis. On the other
hand, it has been shown that in excess of light caro-
tenoids play an important role in photoprotection [1–4].
Carotenoid pigments also have ecological signiﬁ-
cance. Making ﬂowers and fruits colored, they play an
important role in ecosystems, attracting pollen-dispers-
ing insects and fruit-eating animals.
Carotenoids are also important for animals.
Although these organisms are not able to synthesize
carotenoids, they receive them in a food and incorpo-
rate into their own tissues. In humans, carotenoids nor-
mally occur in several types of tissues, e.g., muscles,
liver, eye, blood and adipose tissue. Currently, about
25 carotenoids and their metabolites have been found
in serum [5, 6]. There is increasing evidence that caro-
tenoids are important constituents of human diet. In
recent years, many papers about the effect of dietary
carotenoids on human health have been published.
They reduce risk of chronic diseases such as breast,
prostate and other cancers [7–9], coronary heart disease
[7, 10], age-related macular degeneration and other eye
diseases . They also have a stimulating effect on the
immune system and cell–cell interactions such as gap
junction communication [11–13]. Molecular mecha-
nisms responsible for carotenoid functioning are
largely unknown, however, their antioxidative action
and modulatory effect on membrane physical proper-
ties are probably involved [14–19].
Carotenoids and Environmental Stress in Plants: Significance
of Carotenoid-Mediated Modulation
of Membrane Physical Properties
K. Strza ka, A. Kostecka-Guga a, and D. Latowski
Department of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, Faculty of Biotechnology, Jagiellonian University,
ul. Gronostajowa 7, 30-387 Krakow, Poland;
fax: (4812) 633-6907; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received October 10, 2001
—Carotenoids, apart of their antenna function in photosynthesis, play an important role in the mech-
anisms protecting the photosynthetic apparatus against various harmful environmental factors. They protect
plants against overexcitation in strong light and dissipate the excess of absorbed energy, they scavenge reactive
oxygen species formed during photooxidative stress and moderate the effect of extreme temperatures. One of
the important factors involved in the protective action of carotenoids is their inﬂuence on the molecular dynam-
ics of membranes. To obtain complex information about interactions between carotenoids and lipids in a mem-
brane, different techniques were used. In this review, the data resulting from EPR–spin label spectrometry,
C-NMR, differential scanning calorimetry, and computer simulation of the membrane molecular dynam-
ics are presented. The effects of selected, structurally different carotenoid species on various physical parame-
ters of model and natural membranes are described and their relevance to protection against some environmen-
tal stresses are discussed.
Key words: carotenoids - light stress - membrane dynamics - xanthophyll cycle
: DSC—differential scanning calorimetry; DPPC—
dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine; EPR—electron paramagnetic res-
onance; MGDG—monogalactosyldiacylglycerol; POPC—palmi-
toyloleoylphosphatidylcholine; VDE—violaxanthin de-epoxidase.
The article was submitted by the authors in English. It was
reported at the International Conference “Ecological Physiology
of Plants: Problems and Possible Solutions in the XXI Century”
(Syktyvkar, Russia, October 2001).