Structural determinant of chemical reactivity and potential health effects of quinones from natural products

Tingting Tu, Daryl Giblin, Michael L. Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Although many phenols and catechols found as polyphenol natural products are antioxidants and have putative disease-preventive properties, others have deleterious health effects. One possible route to toxicity is the bioactivation of the phenolic function to quinones that are electrophilic, redox-agents capable of modifying DNA and proteins. The structure-property relationships of biologically important quinones and their precursors may help understand the balance between their health benefits and risks. We describe a mass-spectrometry-based study of four quinones produced by oxidizing flavanones and flavones. Those with a C2-C3 double bond on ring C of the flavonoid stabilize by delocalization of an incipient positive charge from protonation and render the protonated quinone particularly susceptible to nucleophilic attack. We hypothesize that the absence of this double bond is one specific structural determinant that is responsible for the ability of quinones to modify biological macromolecules. Those quinones containing a C2-C3 single bond have relatively higher aqueous stability and longer half-lives than those with a double bond at the same position; the latter have short half-lives at or below ∼1 s. Quinones with a C2-C3 double bond show little ability to depurinate DNA because they are rapidly hydrated to unreactive species. Molecular-orbital calculations support that quinone hydration by a highly structure-dependent mechanism accounts for their chemical properties. The evidence taken together support a hypothesis that those flavonoids and related natural products that undergo oxidation to quinones and are then rapidly hydrated are unlikely to damage important biological macromolecules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1527-1539
Number of pages13
JournalChemical Research in Toxicology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 19 2011


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