Lycopene (ψ,ψ-carotene) is the most abundant carotenoid in tomatoes and is the red pigment of not only tomatoes but also rosehips, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, and guava. Unlike β-carotene, lycopene lacks a β-ionone ring and therefore has no pro-vitamin A activity. However, the 11 conjugated and two non-conjugated double bonds in lycopene make it highly reactive towards oxygen and free radicals, and this anti-oxidant activity probably contributes to its efficacy as a chemoprevention agent. The reactivity of lycopene also explains why it isomerizes rapidly in blood and tissues from the biosynthetic all-trans form to a mixture of cis-isomers. Prospective and retrospective epidemiological studies indicating an inverse relationship between lycopene intake and prostate cancer risk have been supported by in vitro and in vivo experiments showing that oral lycopene is bioavailable, accumulates in prostate tissue and is localized to the nucleus of prostate epithelial cells. In addition to antioxidant activity, in vitro experiments indicate other mechanisms of chemoprevention by lycopene including induction of apoptosis and antiproliferation in cancer cells, anti-metastatic activity, and the upregulation of the antioxidant response element leading to the synthesis of cytoprotective enzymes. Lycopene is a substrate for carotene-9′,10′-monooxygenase (CMO2) and can be converted to apo-10′-carotenal. Although Phase I and II studies have been published that establish the safety of lycopene supplementation, carefully designed and adequately powered clinical studies of lycopene are still needed to confirm its efficacy as a chemoprevention agent. © 2008 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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