Evidence for consistent patterns between flavonoid structures and cellular activities

Flore Depeint, J. M. Gee, G. Williamson, I. T. Johnson

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A wide variety of plant-derived compounds, including the polyphenolic flavonoids, is present in the human diet or is consumed for medicinal reasons. Epidemiological and animal studies tend to suggest a protective effect of flavonoids against cardiovascular diseases and some types of cancer. Although flavonoids have been studied for about 50 years, the cellular mechanisms involved in their biological activity are still largely unknown. Antioxidant properties of the flavonoids have been postulated as a mechanism for putative protective effect against cardiovascular disease. Nevertheless, these properties alone are not sufficient to explain the anti-carcinogenic potential of these polyphenols. The mechanisms by which the molecules interact with cells or are absorbed by them are very important for determining the intracellular concentration and distribution of the metabolites to internal organs. With the exception of the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, all other cells in the body are only exposed to flavonoid metabolites and degradation products. No previous studies have addressed this aspect of cellular exposure, except for some methylated metabolites. Within the last decade, reports on flavonoid activities have been largely associated with enzyme inhibition and anti-proliferative activity. From our recent work on the human colon cancer cell line HT29 and comparison with published studies, structure-function relationships demonstrate that antioxidant, enzyme inhibitor or anti-proliferative activities are dependent on particular structure motifs. The present review also presents a summary of mechanistic data on a few selected compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-103
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-proliferative activities
  • Antioxidant activities
  • Enzyme inhibitor activities
  • Flavonoids
  • Structure-activity relationship

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