The gastrointestinal tract provides a physical barrier to the diffusion of foreign materials from the lumen into the circulatory system. Impairment of the intercellular tight junction (TJ) shield, which is the major determinant of intestinal barrier function, is associated with various diseases. Dietary flavonoids demonstrate various beneficial effects on our health; however, the information regarding their effects on TJ function is quite limited. To date, four flavonoids - epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), genistein, myricetin and quercetin - have been reported to exhibit promotive and protective effects on intestinal TJ barrier functions. Genistein, a major soybean isoflavone, protects TJ barrier function against oxidative stress, acetaldehyde, enteric bacteria and inflammatory cytokines. Genistein blocks the tyrosine phosphorylation of the TJ proteins induced by oxidative stress and acetaldehyde, which results in the disassembly of the proteins from the junctional complex. Quercetin, a flavonol, enhances intestinal TJ barrier function through the assembly and expression of TJ proteins. The change in phosphorylation status is responsible for the quercetin-mediated assembly of TJ proteins. TJ protein induction has an additional role in this effect. This review presents the recent advances in our understanding of the flavonoid-mediated promotive and protective effects on intestinal TJ barrier function with a particular focus on intracellular molecular mechanisms.
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