Quercetin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and anticarcinogenic properties. In plant foods, quercetin occurs mainly bound to various sugars via a beta-glycosidic link. We hypothesized that lactase phlorizin hydrolase (LPH), an enzyme at the brush border membrane of intestinal cells, is involved in the in vivo intestinal uptake of quercetin-sugars. To study this, we measured the appearance of quercetin metabolites in plasma and perfusate after perfusing the jejunum and ileum with 50 micro mol/L quercetin-3-glucoside in an in situ rat perfusion model. LPH was inhibited by the selective LPH inhibitor N-butyldeoxygalactonojirimycin (0, 0.5, 2 or 10 mmol/L) (n = 5 rats/group). Quercetin in plasma and perfusion buffer was determined by HPLC with CoulArray detection. Results are given as means +/- SEM. In the perfusion buffer, 13.8 +/- 0.7 micro mol/L quercetin-3-glucoside was hydrolyzed during intestinal passage. Co-perfusion with 0.5, 2 and 10 mmol/L N-butyldeoxygalactonojirimycin resulted in 38% (P < 0.05), 50% (P < 0.01) and 67% (P < 0.01) less hydrolysis, respectively. Plasma concentrations of quercetin in the corresponding groups were 36% (P = 0.12), 55% (P < 0.01) and 75% (P < 0.01) lower than in controls (1.23 +/- 0.22 micro mol/L). These data suggest that LPH is a major determinant of intestinal absorption of quercetin-3-glucoside in rats.