Quercetin is a major flavonoid in the human diet and the most commonly used in studies of biological activity. Most of the knowledge about its biological effects has originated from in vitro studies while in vivo data are scarce. Quercetin mostly occurs in foodstuffs as glycosides that are deglycosylated during absorption and further submitted to different conjugation reactions. Methylation to isorhamnetin (quercetin 3′-O-methylether) or tamarixetin (quercetin 4′-O-methylether) seems to be an important conjugation process in quercetin metabolism. In this work, the effects of quercetin and its 3′- and 4′-O-methylated metabolites on the phenotypic characteristics, stress oxidative resistance, thermotolerance and lifespan of the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans have been assessed. The three assayed flavonols significantly prolonged the lifespan of this nematode with an increase from 11% to 16% in the mean lifespan with respect to controls. However, only quercetin significantly increased the reproductive capacity of the worm and enlarged the body size. Exposure to the assayed flavonols also increased significantly the resistance against thermal and juglone-induced oxidative stress, although differences were found depending on the stage of development of the worm. Thus, quercetin offered greater protection when thermal stress was applied in the 1st day of adulthood, whereas tamarixetin was more efficient in worms submitted to stress in the 6th day of adulthood. Similarly, significantly greater protection was provided by quercetin than by its methylated derivatives at the 1st day of adulthood, whilst quercetin and isorhamnetin were equally efficient when the oxidative stress was induced in the 6th of day of adulthood. Further evidence of antioxidant protection was obtained checking the oxidation status of proteins by the OxyBlot™ detection kit. Analyses by HPLC-DAD-ESI/MS confirmed that the three flavonols were taken up by C. elegans leading to the formation of some glycosylated, sulfated and methylated metabolites, and that demethylation of these latter to quercetin was also produced. Quantification of the levels of quercetin, isorhamnetin and tamarixetin, as well as their detected metabolites indicated a greater uptake of quercetin than its methylated derivatives by the nematode.
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