The flavonoid, quercetin, differentially regulates Th-1 (IFNgamma) and Th-2 (IL4) cytokine gene expression by normal peripheral blood mononuclear cells

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2002 Dec 16;1593(1):29-36. doi: 10.1016/s0167-4889(02)00328-2.


Flavonoids are plant metabolites that are dietary antioxidants and exert significant anti-tumor, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects. It is generally accepted that Th-1 derived cytokines such as IL-2, IFNgamma and IL-12 promote cellular immunity while Th-2 derived cytokines such as IL-4, IL-5, IL-6 exert negative immunoregulatory effects on cellular immunity while upregulating humoral immunity. The molecular mechanisms underlying the biological activities of flavonoids have not been elucidated. We hypothesize that the flavonoid, quercetin, exert significant anti-viral and anti-tumor effects possibly by modulating the production of Th-1 and Th-2 derived cytokines. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC, 1 x 10(6) cells/ml) from normal subjects were cultured with different concentrations of quercetin (0.5-50 microM) for 24-72 h and supernates were quantitated for IFN-gamma and IL-4 by ELISA and antiviral activity of IFNgamma by bioassay. FACS analysis was done to determine the number of IFN-gamma and IL-4 positive cells and RT-PCR was done to quantitate gene expression. Quercetin significantly induces the gene expression as well as the production of Th-1 derived IFNgamma and the downregulates Th-2 derived IL-4 by normal PBMC. Further, quercetin treatment increased the phenotypic expression of IFNgamma cells and decreased IL-4 positive cells by FACS analysis, which corroborate with protein secretion and gene expression studies. These results suggest that the beneficial immuno-stimulatory effects of quercetin may be mediated through the induction of Th-1 derived cytokine, IFNgamma, and inhibition of Th-2 derived cytokine, IL-4.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interferon-gamma / drug effects
  • Interferon-gamma / genetics*
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interleukin-4 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-4 / genetics*
  • Interleukin-4 / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism*
  • Quercetin / pharmacology*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Quercetin