Compartmental and noncompartmental modeling of 13C-lycopene absorption, isomerization, and distribution kinetics in healthy adults1–3

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Lycopene, which is a red carotenoid in tomatoes, has been hypothesized to mediate disease-preventive effects associated with tomato consumption. Lycopene is consumed primarily as the all-trans geometric isomer in foods, whereas human plasma and tissues show greater proportions of cis isomers.


With the use of compartmental modeling and stable isotope technology, we determined whether endogenous all-transto-cis-lycopene isomerization or isomeric-bioavailability differences underlie the greater proportion of lycopene cis isomers in human tissues than in tomato foods.


Healthy men (n = 4) and women (n = 4) consumed 13C-lycopene (10.2 mg; 82% all-trans and 18% cis), and plasma was collected over 28 d. Unlabeled and 13C-labeled total lycopene and lycopene-isomer plasma concentrations, which were measured with the use of high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, were fit to a 7-compartment model.


Subjects absorbed a mean ± SEM of 23% ± 6% of the lycopene. The proportion of plasma cis-13C-lycopene isomers increased over time, and all-trans had a shorter half-life than that of cis isomers (5.3 ± 0.3 and 8.8 ± 0.6 d, respectively; P < 0.001) and an earlier time to reach maximal plasma concentration than that of cis isomers (28 ± 7 and 48 ± 9 h, respectively). A compartmental model that allowed for interindividual differences in cis- and all-trans-lycopene bioavailability and endogenous transto-cis-lycopene isomerization was predictive of plasma 13C and unlabeled cis- and all-trans-lycopene concentrations. Although the bioavailability of cis (24.5% ± 6%) and all-trans (23.2% ± 8%) isomers did not differ, endogenous isomerization (0.97 ± 0.25 mmol/d in the fast-turnover tissue lycopene pool) drove tissue and plasma isomeric profiles.


13C-Lycopene combined with physiologic compartmental modeling provides a strategy for following complex in vivo metabolic processes in humans and reveals that postabsorptive trans-tocis- lycopene isomerization, and not the differential bioavailability of isomers, drives tissue and plasma enrichment of cis-lycopene. This trial was registered at as NCT01692340. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:1436–49.

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