Quercetin is a member of a group of naturally occurring compounds, the flavonoids, which have a common flavone nucleus composed of two benzene rings linked through a heterocyclicpyrone ring. Quercetin is found in various plants, food products, and dyes of natural origin. The estimated average daily intake of quercetin by an individual in the United States is 25 mg. The Food and Drug Administration nominated quercetin for toxicity and carcinogenicity studies in the rat because it is a chemical that is widely distributed in foods. Quercetin was administered to rats by dosed feed since human exposure is by dietary consumption.
Information in the literature showed that quercetin administered in the diet to rats at levels up to approximately 4% caused a minor body weight effect, whereas higher dose levels produced greater than 10% reduction in body weight gains relative to controls. Based on this information, the NTP 2-year studies were conducted by administering 0, 1,000, 10,000, or 40,000 ppm quercetin (>95% pure) in feed to groups of 50 male and female rats for 104 weeks. Ten additional animals per dose group were evaluated at 6 and 15 months.
Body weight, survival, and clinical findings
Body weights of exposed male and female rats given 1,000 and 10,000 ppm were within 5% of controls throughout the studies. Reduced body weight gain in male and female rats receiving 40,000 ppm was observed by week 15 and the final mean body weights were 87% of controls at week 104. Survival and feed consumption were similar among exposed and control groups throughout the studies. The average amounts of quercetin consumed per day by the 1,000, 10,000 and 40,000 ppm dose groups after week 52 were 40, 400, and 1,900 mg/kg of body weight.
Nonneoplastic and neoplastic effects
In male rats, the principal toxic effects associated with the dietary administration of quercetin for 2 years were observed in the kidney. There were dose-related increases in the severity of chronic nephropathy (control, 2.7; low-dose, 2.7; mid-dose, 3.0; high-dose, 3.2) and a slight increased incidence in focal hyperplasia of the renal tubule epithelium (1/50; 2/50; 3/50; 4/50). Parathyroid hyperplasia, indicative of renal secondary hyperparathyroidism, also increased incidence in dosed male rats (1/43, 6/45, 6/43, 17/43).
The evaluation of single sections from the left and right kidneys revealed renal tubule adenomas in three male rats and adenocarcinomas in another male rat receiving 40,000 ppm quercetin; none were seen in the controls. Examination of additional step sections of the male rat kidney identified additional hyperplasia and adenomas in all dose groups (hyperplasia: 2/50, 2/50, 6/50, 8/50; adenoma: 1/50, 2/50, 7/50, 6/50). The overall incidence of renal tubule adenoma or adenocarcinoma combined in male rats was 1/50 in controls and 9/50 in the high-dose group.
There was no apparent effect of quercetin on the kidney of female rats. A single renal tubule adenoma was seen in a female receiving 10,000 ppm; this neoplasm was not considered biologically significant.
There was a statistically significant, dose-related decrease in the incidence of mammary gland fibroadenomas in exposed female rats (29/50, 27/50, 16/50, 9/50), which may in part be attributed to lower body weight gains.
There was a treatment-related accumulation of yellow-brown granular pigment adsorbed to or absorbed by the epithelial cells of the glandular stomach, ileum, jejunum, and, to a lesser extent, the duodenum and colon. The severity of the pigmentation in these tissues increased with increased length of exposure. There were no other lesions considered to be related to chemical administration.
Quercetin induced gene mutations in Salmonella typhimurium strains TA100 and TA98 with and without exogenous metabolic activation (S9). Positive results were also obtained in tests with and without S9 for induction of sister chromatid exchanges and chromosomal aberrations in Chinese hamster ovary cells.
Under the conditions of these 2-year feed studies there was some evidence of carcinogenic activity of quercetin in male F344/N rats based on an increased incidence of renal tubule cell adenomas. There was no evidence of carcinogenic activity of quercetin in female F344/N rats receiving 1,000, 10,000 or 40,000 ppm.
The incidence of renal tubule hyperplasia and the severity of nephropathy were increased in exposed male rats.