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Lycopene in atherosclerosis prevention: An integrated scheme of the potential mechanisms of action from cell culture studies

Increasing evidence suggests that lycopene may protect against atherosclerosis, although, the exact mechanism(s) is still unknown. Because lycopene is an efficient antioxidant, it has been proposed for a long time that this property may be responsible for its beneficial effects. Consistent with this, the carotenoid has been demonstrated to inhibit ROS production in vitro and to protect LDL from oxidation. However, recently, other mechanisms have been evoked and include: prevention of endothelial injury; modulation of lipid metabolism through a control of cholesterol synthesis and oxysterol toxic activities; reduction of inflammatory response through changes in cytokine production; inhibition of smooth muscle cell proliferation through regulation of molecular pathways involved in cell proliferation and apoptosis. Focusing on cell culture studies, this review summarizes the experimental evidence for a role of lycopene in the different phases of atherosclerotic process.