Quercetin and catechin are present in noticeable amounts in human diet and these polyphenolic compounds are supposed to exert beneficial effects on human health. However, their metabolic fates in the organism have never been compared. In the present study, rats were fed a 0.25% quercetin or a 0.25% catechin diet. Quercetin and catechin metabolites were analyzed in plasma and liver samples by high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to an ultraviolet or a multielectrode coulometric detection. All plasma metabolites were present as conjugated forms, but catechin metabolites were mainly constituted by glucuronidated derivatives, whereas quercetin metabolites were sulfo- and glucurono-sulfo conjugates. Quercetin was more intensively methylated than catechin in plasma. The plasma quercetin metabolites are well maintained during the postabsorptive period (approximately 50 microM), whereas the concentration of catechin metabolites dropped dramatically between 12- and 24-h after an experimental meal (from 38.0 to 4.5 microM). In the liver, the concentrations of quercetin and catechin derivatives were lower than in plasma, and no accumulation was observed when the rats were adapted for 14 d to the supplemented diets. The hepatic metabolites were intensively methylated (90-95%), but in contrast to plasma, some free aglycones could be detected. Thus, it clearly appears that studies dealing with the biological impact of these polyphenols should take into account the feature of their bioavailability, particularly the fact that their circulating metabolites are conjugated derivatives.