CAROTENASE. THE TRANSFORMATION TO VITAMIN A IN VITRO BY (From H. S. OLCOTT the Laboratories Ai’iD of Biochemistry University of Iowa, (Receiv...

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the Laboratories


of Biochemistry University

of Iowa,

(Received for publication,


D. C. MCCANN and Analytical Iowa




August 21, 1931)


In the present study the presence of vitamin A was detected by ultra-violet absorpt,ion spectra met.hods, since vitamin A is characterized by a broad absorption band with a maximum near in 328mp (2, 6, 8, 13, 14, 18). A Hilger E-2 quartz spectrograph conjunction with a sector photometer and a tungsten-steel spark was used for the photographs. The absorption curves of carotene, achroocarotene (16), and carotene decolorized by oxidation are presented in Fig. 1. These curves agree with those of Duliere, Morton, and Drummond (7), Capper (2), and McNicholas (10) for carotene and oxidized carotene. The absence of a band at 328mp indicates that decoloriza* An abstract of this work is in press in Science (1931). 185

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The work of Moore, Capper, and Drummond and their coworkers (3-5, 11) has definitely established the rBle of carotene as a precursor of vitamin A. When carotene, or substances containing it, were fed to vitamin A-free rats or fowls, the livers of such animals were found to contain vitamin A. Moore (12) showed that the liver contains more vitamin A than other tissues, and concluded that the conversion takes place in that organ. If an enzyme, carotenase, is responsible for this transformation, it should be possible to prepare vitamin A from carotene in vitro by incubation with whole liver or liver ext,racts. It is the purpose of this paper to outline a series of experiments which demonstrate that such a reaction does take place.



tion of carotene by heat or oxidation does not yield vitamin A, an observation which has been confirmed by biological assays. It should be noted that carotene has bands at 28Omp and 345mp, and no band at 328mp, and that its absorption is greater than either of its derivatives as indicated by the concentration used in the cell. 0.E

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0.E . 5 z 0.4



320 Wave length



in w-p

FIG. 1 .-absorption spectrum of carotene in chloroform, 1:75,000; ---------- achroocarotene in chloroform, 1:50,000; - - - - oxidized carotene in chloroform, 1: 10,000.

Fresh whole liver from vitamin A-free rats was used in the first attempts to produce vitamin A in vz’tro. The rats had been fed on a diet consisting of sucrose (46 per cent), lard (24 per cent), extracted casein (18 per cent), dried yeast’ (8 per cent), salts2 (4 1 Courtesy of the Northwestern 2 Osborne, T. B., and Mendel,

Yeast Company. L. B., J. Biol. Chem.,


317 (1917).

H. S. Olcott and D. C. McCann


per cent), and viosterols (10 drops per kilo of diet). When a rat became deficient in vitamin A, as denoted by a rapid loss of weight, it was killed by a blow on the head, and its liver extirpated. The liver from Rat 347 (Fig. 2) weighed 5 gm. It was thoroughly ground with sand, 15 cc. of a phosphate buffer solution at pH 7.45, and approximately 2 cc. of ethyl laurate in which had been dissolved 2 mg. of carotene (from lettuce (15)). The mix-

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3P 33r r FIG. 2. Growth curves of rats on vitamin A-free diet. Rat 333 was fed 0.010 mg. of carotene per day for 8 days before it was killed.

ture was allowed to stand 24 hours at 38”, 10 cc. of 10 per cent potassium hydroxide were added, and the incubation continued for another 24 hours. The saponified material was then thoroughly extracted with ether, the ether was washed, dried over anhydrous sodium sulfate, and evaporated to dryness. The residue was dissolved in approximately 300 times its weight of chloroform, and the absorption spectrum photographed. A 3 Courtesy of Mead Johnson and Company.



distinct band at 328~~~ (Fig. 3) indicated that vitamin A was present. Although the ether extract had been slightly yellow,

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Wave length FIG. 3. ____ absorption spectrum Rat 347, carotene added, in chloroform, control, in chloroform, 1:300; ----same carotene, in chloroform, 1:500.





of unsaponifiable liver lipids of 1:300; ---------same of Rat 331, of Rat 333, previously fed

there was not sufficient carotene remaining to give the typical carotene bands. The same procedure was followed in two more experiments with similar results.

H. S. Olcott and D. C. McCann


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The liver from Rat 331 (Fig. 2) was treated in the same way except that the ethyl laurate added contained no carotene. The absorption spectrum (Fig. 3) showed no indication of a band at 328mp, nor did the extracts from two more livers treated similarly absorb in this region. Capper (3) was likewise unable to distinguish a band at 328m,u in the absorption spectra of liver oils from vitamin A-depleted rats. Two rats were allowed to become deplet.ed of vitamin A stores; they were then fed carotene dissolved in ethyl laurate, and when growth had become rapid, they were killed and their livers examined for vitamin A. The spectra of both oils were similar; to save space, as in the previous cases, the protocol of only one is included. The liver of Rat 333 (Fig. 2) was cut into small pieces and dissolved in 10 per cent potassium hydroxide by warming for 24 hours. The saponified mixture was extracted as in the previous cases, and the absorption of the extracted material determined. The band at 328mp (Fig. 3) was again evident, confirming the observations of Moore, Capper, and others (3,5, 11) that carotene was changed in the body to vitamin A, and from the similarity of the absorption curves, justifying the assumption that the band found after the in vitro incubation of carotene @pithliver tissue was due to vitamin A. An active extract of carotenase was prepared in the following manner: The livers from Rats 293 and 320 (Fig. 2) were combined, thoroughly ground with sand and 50 cc. of toluene-water, and the mixture allowed to incubate for 24 hours at 37”. The digest was then filtered through cheese-cloth and coarse filter paper, and the filtrate reserved as a solution of the enzyme. 2 cc. of the liver extract were thoroughly extracted with ether. The ether was evaporated to dryness, the residue dissolved in a small amount of chloroform, and its absorption spectrum determined as before (Fig. 4). The absence of a band at 328mp indicated that, the extract contained no appreciable amounts of vitamin A. A colloidal solution of carotene in water was prepared by the method suggestedby Fodor and Schoenfeld (9). A stable colloid, exhibiting a marked Tyndall effect, was obtained which contained approximately 0.02 mg. of carotene per cc. 6 cc. of this solution were mixed with 2 cc. of the liver extract, and allowed to incubate for 36 hours. The ether extract was colorless, indicating that the



carotene had been changed during the incubation. An absorption spectrum of the residue in chloroform showed a band at 328mp (Fig. 4). 2 cc. of the liver extract were heated to boiling, cooled, the solution of carotene added, and the incubation allowed to proceed


--rC’----‘--- .*

11, 370


330 length

290 in



FIG. 4. ---------absorption spectrum of ether-soluble constituents of liver extract, in chloroform; ___ ether-soluble constituents of liver extract after incubation with carotene in chloroform; - - -ethersoluble constituents of heated liver extract after incubation with carotene, in chloroform.

exactly as before. The ether extract after incubation was yellow, but the color faded during the separate manipulations, and the concentration of the remaining carotene was not sufficient to give the typical carotene spectrum. The absence of the band at 328mp (Fig. 4) demonstrated the thermolability of the agent responsible for the reaction.

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. s s”

4 ,-\ :/,-4 ;I4‘\ /Ii ,II ‘t / ,iI \\/ ; .’ I,4 /‘I I ,I’ I/’

H. S. Olcott and D. C. McCann DISCUSSION

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Von Euler and his coworkers (8) have recently shown that dihydrocarotene retains some of the growth-promoting property of carotene; further, that a mixture of the more fully hydrogenated products has three absorption bands in the ultra-violet region, one of which has a maximum at 32%~~. Their results suggest that vitamin A may be related to reduced carotene, from which it follows that the function of carotenase might be that of catalyzBruins, Overhoff, and Wolff ing a particular type of reduction. (1) determined the molecular weight of vitamin A by a comparison From of the diffusion constants of carotene and the vitamin. their results, they deduce a molecular weight of 330 (carotene, mol. wt., 536) and state that “the value obtained causes the assumption of a simple chemical relation between vitamin A and It is possible that vitamin A carotene to appear improbable.” is a reduced fragment of the carotene molecule, and that reduction of carotene itself creates that part of the molecule responsiblefor the absorption at 328mp. Previous workers have noted a band at 28Omp in the absorption spectra of cod liver oils (13, 17), and Capper (3) called attention to inflections in that region in the absorption spectra of rat liver oils. The bands were in no case as pronounced as those observed in the present study. Both carotene (Fig. 1) and its isomer, lycopin (unpublished observations), have a band at 280mp, although lycopin differs from carotene in lacking the band at 345mp. One of the three important bands of ergosterol is at 280 mp. Although it may be a chance occurrence, it is possible that some molecular configuration, common to carotene, lycopin, ergosterol, and the unknown substances in fish and animal oils, is responsible for the absorption at 280mp. The character of the compounds present in liver which contain the configuration absorbing at 280mp remains to be determined. Whatever compound is responsible, it seems to be present in equal amounts in the separate rat livers (Fig. 3). The concentration of the solutions used to determine the absorption curves presented in Fig. 4 was not known since the amount of material used was too small to be weighed; consequently the heights of the bands are not proportional to the total amount of absorbing substance (a condition which would be true if the




Carotene can be changed to vitamin A by incubation with fresh liver tissue or with an aqueous extract of liver. The agent responsible for the transformation appears to be an enzyme, provisionally called carotenase, since it is destroyed by heat. The conversion of carotene to vitamin A in viva and the usefulnessof ultra-violet absorption spectrum methods for the detection of vitamin A are confirmed. We are grateful to Dr. H. A. Mattill and interest.

for his helpful criticism


1. Bruins, H. R., Overhoff, J., and Wolff, L. K., Biochem. J., 26,430 (1931). 2. Capper,N. S., Biochem. J., 24,453 (1930). 3. Capper, N. S., Biochem. J., 24, 980 (1930). 4. Capper, N. S., McKibbin, I. M. W., and Prentice, J. H., Biochem. J., 26, 265 (1931). 5. Drummond, J. C., Ahmad, B., and Morton, R. A., J. Sot. Chem. Id., 49, 291 T (1930). 6. Drummond, J. C., and Morton, R. A., Biochem. J., 23, 785 (1929). 7. Duliere, W., Morton, R. A., and Drummond, J. C., J. Sot. Chem. Ind., 43, 316 T (1930). 8. von Euler, H., Karrer, P., HellstrBm, H., and Rydbom, M., Helv. Chim. Acta, 14,839 (1931). 9. Fodor, A., and Schoenfeld, M., Biochem. Z., 233,243 (1931).

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same concentration of the separate oils had been used). A more exact comparison of the vitamin A content can be obtained by superimposing the peaks of the 28Omp bands on one another, that is, by assuming that each 2 cc. of liver extract contained an equal amount of the unknown substance absorbing at 28Omp. If such a comparison is made with the curves in Fig. 3, it will be seen that the liver treated with carotene in vitro contained considerably lessvitamin than that of the rat previously fed carotene. Further study of the absorption curves in Figs. 3 and 4 reveals that, by using a liver extract, it has been possible to reduce the relative amount of the unknown substance. The control curve of the liver extract falls off less sharply than the control curve of the whole liver, and the vitamin A content is proportionately several times greater in the experiments with liver extract.

H. S. Olcott and D. C. McCann 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18.

McNicholas, H. J., BUY-. Standards J. Res., ‘7, 171 (1931). Moore, T., Biochem. J., 24, 692 (1930). Moore, T., Biochem. J., 26,275 (1931). Morton, R. A., and Heilbron, I. M., Biochem. J., 22, 987 (1928). Morton, R. A., Heilbron, I. M., and Thompson, A., Biochem. J., 26, 20 (1931). Olcott, H. S., and Mattill, H. A., J. Biol. Chem., 93, 59 (1931). Olcovich, H. S., and Mattill, H. A., J. Biol. Chem., 91, 105 (1931). Schluta, F. W., and Morse, M., Am. J. Dis. Child., 30, 199 (1925). Takahashi, K., Nakamiya, Z., Kawakami, K., and Kitasato, T., SC. Papers Inst. Physic. and Chem. Research, Tokyo, 3, 81 (1925). Downloaded from by guest on April 2, 2018


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