Lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) are two xanthophyll carotenoids that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Previous work has demonstrated their importance for eye health and preventing diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. An emerging literature base has also demonstrated the importance of L and Z in cognition, neural structure, and neural efficiency. The present study aimed to better understand the mechanisms by which L and Z relate to cognition, in particular, visual–spatial processing and decision-making in older adults. We hypothesized that markers of higher levels of L and Z would be associated with better neural efficiency during a visual–spatial processing task. L and Z were assessed via standard measurement of blood serum and retinal concentrations. Visual–spatial processing and decision-making were assessed via a judgment of line orientation task (JLO) completed during a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan. The results demonstrated that individuals with higher concentrations of L and Z showed a decreased blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal during task performance (i.e., “neural efficiency”) in key areas associated with visual–spatial perception, processing, decision-making, and motor coordination, including the lateral occipital cortex, occipital pole, superior and middle temporal gyri, superior parietal lobule, superior and middle frontal gyri, and pre- and post-central gyri. To our knowledge, this is the first investigation of the relationship of L and Z to visual–spatial processing at a neural level using in vivo methodology. Our findings suggest that L and Z may impact brain health and cognition in older adults by enhancing neurobiological efficiency in a variety of regions that support visual perception and decision-making.
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