The aim of the present study was the evaluation of possible protective effects of quercetin (QE) against beta-cell damage in experimental streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetes in rats. STZ was injected intraperitoneally at a single dose of 50 mg kg(-1) for diabetes induction. QE (15 mg kg(-1) day, intraperitoneal (i.p.) injection) was injected for 3 days prior to STZ administration; these injections were continued to the end of the study (for 4 weeks). It has been believed that oxidative stress plays a role in the pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus (DM). In order to determine the changes of cellular antioxidant defense system, antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) activities were measured in pancreatic homogenates. Moreover we also measured serum nitric oxide (NO) and erythrocyte and pancreatic tissue malondialdehyde (MDA) levels, a marker of lipid peroxidation, if there is an imbalance between oxidant and antioxidant status. Pancreatic beta-cells were examined by immunohistochemical methods. STZ induced a significant increase lipid peroxidation, serum NO concentrations and decreased the antioxidant enzyme activity. Erythrocyte MDA, serum NO and pancreatic tissue MDA significantly increased (P < 0.05) and also the antioxidant levels significantly decreased (P < 0.05) in diabetic group. QE treatment significantly decreased the elevated MDA and NO (P < 0.05), and also increased the antioxidant enzyme activities (P < 0.05). QE treatment has shown protective effect possibly through decreasing lipid peroxidation, NO production and increasing antioxidant enzyme activity. Islet cells degeneration and weak insulin immunohistochemical staining was observed in STZ induced diabetic rats. Increased staining of insulin and preservation of islet cells were apparent in the QE-treated diabetic rats. These findings suggest that QE treatment has protective effect in diabetes by decreasing oxidative stress and preservation of pancreatic beta-cell integrity.