Mitochondrial dysfunction leads to deconjugation of quercetin glucuronides in inflammatory macrophages

PLoS One. 2013 Nov 19;8(11):e80843. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0080843. eCollection 2013.


Dietary flavonoids, such as quercetin, have long been recognized to protect blood vessels from atherogenic inflammation by yet unknown mechanisms. We have previously discovered the specific localization of quercetin-3-O-glucuronide (Q3GA), a phase II metabolite of quercetin, in macrophage cells in the human atherosclerotic lesions, but the biological significance is poorly understood. We have now demonstrated the molecular basis of the interaction between quercetin glucuronides and macrophages, leading to deconjugation of the glucuronides into the active aglycone. In vitro experiments showed that Q3GA was bound to the cell surface proteins of macrophages through anion binding and was readily deconjugated into the aglycone. It is of interest that the macrophage-mediated deconjugation of Q3GA was significantly enhanced upon inflammatory activation by lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Zymography and immunoblotting analysis revealed that β-glucuronidase is the major enzyme responsible for the deglucuronidation, whereas the secretion rate was not affected after LPS treatment. We found that extracellular acidification, which is required for the activity of β-glucuronidase, was significantly induced upon LPS treatment and was due to the increased lactate secretion associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. In addition, the β-glucuronidase secretion, which is triggered by intracellular calcium ions, was also induced by mitochondria dysfunction characterized using antimycin-A (a mitochondrial inhibitor) and siRNA-knockdown of Atg7 (an essential gene for autophagy). The deconjugated aglycone, quercetin, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent in the stimulated macrophages by inhibiting the c-Jun N-terminal kinase activation, whereas Q3GA acts only in the presence of extracellular β-glucuronidase activity. Finally, we demonstrated the deconjugation of quercetin glucuronides including the sulfoglucuronides in vivo in the spleen of mice challenged with LPS. These results showed that mitochondrial dysfunction plays a crucial role in the deconjugation of quercetin glucuronides in macrophages. Collectively, this study contributes to clarifying the mechanism responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity of dietary flavonoids within the inflammation sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / metabolism
  • Biological Transport
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Glucuronidase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Quercetin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Quercetin / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • quercetin 3-O-glucuronide
  • Quercetin
  • Glucuronidase
  • Calcium

Grant support

This work was supported in part by a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A) (to Y.K.) from the Ministry of Education, Sciences, Sports, Technology, Japan, and by a Grant-in-Aid from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Research Fellow (to A.I.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.