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The carotenoid biosynthetic pathway in algae and plants takes place within plastids. In these organelles, carotenoids occur either in a free form or bound to proteins. Under stress, the unicellular green alga Haematococcus pluvialis accumulates secondary carotenoids, mainly astaxanthin esters, in cytoplasmic lipid vesicles up to 4% of its dry mass. It is therefore one of the favored organisms for the biotechnological production of these antioxidative compounds. We have studied the cellular localization and regulation of the enzyme beta-carotene oxygenase in H. pluvialis that catalyzes the introduction of keto functions at position C-4 of the beta-ionone ring of beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Using immunogold labeling of ultrathin sections and Western blot analysis of cell fractions, we discovered that under inductive conditions, beta-carotene oxygenase was localized both in the chloroplast and in the cytoplasmic lipid vesicles, which are (according to their lipid composition) derived from cytoplasmic membranes. However, beta-carotene oxygenase activity was confined to the lipid vesicle compartment. Because an early carotenogenic enzyme in the pathway, phytoene desaturase, was found only in the chloroplast (Grünewald, K., Eckert, M., Hirschberg, J., and Hagen, C. (2000) Plant Physiol. 122, 1261-1268), a transport of intermediates from the site of early biosynthetic steps in the chloroplast to the site of oxygenation and accumulation in cytoplasmic lipid vesicles is proposed.

Original publication




Journal article


J Biol Chem

Publication Date





6023 - 6029


Antioxidants, Cell Compartmentation, Chlorophyta, Cytoplasm, Diphenylamine, Industrial Microbiology, Oxygenases, Plastids, Pyridazines, Xanthophylls, beta Carotene