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Astaxanthin: A Novel Potential Treatment for Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Cardiovascular Disease

      Oxidative stress and inflammation are implicated in several different manifestations of cardiovascular disease (CVD). They are generated, in part, from the overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) that activate transcriptional messengers, such as nuclear factor–κB, tangibly contributing to endothelial dysfunction, the initiation and progression of atherosclerosis, irreversible damage after ischemic reperfusion, and even arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation. Despite this connection between oxidative stress and CVD, there are currently no recognized therapeutic interventions to address this important unmet need. Antioxidants that provide a broad, “upstream” approach via ROS/RNS quenching or free radical chain breaking seem an appropriate therapeutic option based on epidemiologic, dietary, and in vivo animal model data. However, human clinical trials with several different well-known agents, such as vitamin E and β-carotene, have been disappointing. Does this mean antioxidants as a class are ineffective, or rather that the “right” compound(s) have yet to be found, their mechanisms of action understood, and their appropriate targeting and dosages determined? A large class of potent naturally-occurring antioxidants exploited by nature—the oxygenated carotenoids (xanthophylls)—have demonstrated utility in their natural form but have eluded development as successful targeted therapeutic agents up to the present time. This article characterizes the mechanism by which this novel group of antioxidants function and reviews their preclinical development. Results from multiple species support the antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties of the prototype compound, astaxanthin, establishing it as an appropriate candidate for development as a therapeutic agent for cardiovascular oxidative stress and inflammation.
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