The quantitation of metabolites of quercetin flavonols in human urine

Myron D Gross, Michelle Pfeiffer, Margaret Martini, Deborah Campbell, Joanne L Slavin, John Potter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


The flavonoid quercetin, or its metabolites, inhibit chemical carcinogenesis in rodents and may have a role in the prevention of human cancers. Quercetin exposure in human populations results from the dietary intake of various plant foods; high concentrations of quercetin are found in apples, onions, tea, and red wine. Determination of the relationship between dietary intake and cancer risk depends on the characterization of quercetin intake. The development and use of biomarkers for quercetin intake may provide a basis for the objective classification of this exposure. One possible biomarker is metabolic products of quercetin. We report the development of a high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)-based assay for quantitation of quercetin metabolites in human urine. The metabolites include 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (homoprotocatechuic acid), metahydroxyphenylacetic acid, and 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenylacetic acid (homovanillic acid). The assay has only two major steps, ether extraction and HPLC analysis, and is suitable for analysis of large sample numbers. Analytical characteristics of the assay include a sensitivity of less than 1 μg, precision with coefficients of variation <10%, and metabolite recoveries >90%. The mean concentrations of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, metahydroxyphenylacetic acid, and homovanillic acid in two human urine samples are approximately 0.7, 4.8, and 2.8 μg/ml, respectively. The identification of each metabolite is confirmed by HPLC, UV absorbance scans, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. These results verify the occurrence of quercetin metabolites in human urine and the feasibility of quercetin metabolite quantitation, by the assay described herein, for epidemiological studies. Development of the analytical procedure is an essential first step for validation of the metabolites as biomarkers of quercetin intake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)711-720
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1996


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