Flavonoids and alkenylbenzenes: mechanisms of mutagenic action and carcinogenic risk

I.M.C.M. Rietjens, M.G. Boersma, H. van der Woude, S.M.F. Jeurissen, M.E. Schutte, G.M. Alink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

206 Citations (Scopus)


The present review focuses on the mechanisms of mutagenic action and the carcinogenic risk of two categories of botanical ingredients, namely the flavonoids with quercetin as an important bioactive representative, and the alkenylbenzenes, namely safrole, methyleugenol and estragole. For quercetin a metabolic pathway for activation to DNA-reactive species may include enzymatic and/or chemical oxidation of quercetin to quercetin ortho-quinone, followed by isomerisation of the ortho-quinone to quinone methides. These quinone methides are suggested to be the active alkylating DNA-reactive intermediates. Recent results have demonstrated the formation of quercetin DNA adducts in exposed cells in vitro. The question that remains to be answered is why these genotoxic characteristics of quercetin are not reflected by carcinogenicity. This might in part be related to the transient nature of quercetin quinone methide adducts, and suggests that stability and/or repair of DNA adducts may need increased attention in in vitro genotoxicity studies. Thus, in vitro mutagenicity studies should put more emphasis on the transient nature of the DNA adducts responsible for the mutagenicity in vitro, since this transient nature of the formed DNA adducts may play an essential role in whether the genotoxicity observed in vitro will have any impact in vivo. For alkenylbenzenes the ultimate electrophilic and carcinogenic metabolites are the carbocations formed upon degradation of their 1'-sulfooxy derivatives, so bioactivation of the alkenylbenzenes to their ultimate carcinogens requires the involvement of cytochromes P450 and sulfotransferases. Identification of the cytochrome P450 isoenzymes involved in bioactivation of the alkenylbenzenes identifies the groups within the population possibly at increased risk, due to life style factors or genetic polymorphisms leading to rapid metaboliser phenotypes. Furthermore, toxicokinetics for conversion of the alkenylbenzenes to their carcinogenic metabolites and kinetics for repair of the DNA adducts formed provide other important aspects that have to be taken into account in the high to low dose risk extrapolation in the risk assessment on alkenylbenzenes. Altogether the present review stresses that species differences and mechanistic data have to be taken into account and that new mechanism- and toxicokinetic-based methods and models are required for cancer risk extrapolation from high dose experimental animal data to low dose carcinogenic risks for man.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-138
JournalMutation Research. Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis
Issue number(1-2)
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • multidrug-resistance protein-1
  • human cytochrome-p450 enzymes
  • quercetin quinone methide
  • unscheduled dna-synthesis
  • post-labeling analysis
  • breast-cancer cells
  • s-transferase p1-1
  • in-vitro
  • allylbenzene analogs
  • dietary flavonoids


Dive into the research topics of 'Flavonoids and alkenylbenzenes: mechanisms of mutagenic action and carcinogenic risk'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this