The inhibitory effect of the plant flavonoid, rutin, on group I phospholipase A2 (PLA2-I) from porcine pancreas and Naja naja, and on group II phospholipase A2 (PLA2-II) from Vipera russelli and Crotalus atrox was investigated. Rutin efficiently inhibited PLA2-II from both Vipera russelli and Crotalus atrox but was only a weak inhibitor of PLA2-I from porcine pancreas and Naja naja. The lack of strong inhibition of pancreatic PLA2-I was not due to contaminating proteins in the enzyme preparation, since the same weak inhibition was obtained against pancreatic PLA2 purified to homogeneity as judged by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. Rutin also efficiently inhibited human PLA2-II from synovial fluid but was only a weak inhibitor of human PLA2-I from pancreatic juice, suggesting that rutin is a selective PLA2-I from porcine pancreas. The results obtained indicate that the hydroxyl group in 5-position as well as the double bond and the double-bonded oxygen in the oxane ring are all important for the overall ability of flavonoids to inhibit PLA2 activity, and that the hydroxyl groups in 3'- and 4'- position are required for selective inhibition of PLA2-II.