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In Vitro Pollen Tube Growth Reveals the Cytotoxic Potential of the Flavonols, Quercetin and Rutin

Fabiana Antognoni, Elisa Ovidi, Anna Rita Taddei, Gabriella Gambellini and Anna Speranza

Flavonols are phytochemicals widely found in commonly consumed foods. In spite of their beneficial effects on human health, however, cytotoxicity and even suspected genotoxicity have also been reported for the flavonol, quercetin. This points to the need for preventive studies to identify any cytotoxic effects associated with pure flavonol intake. This work was performed with the aim of verifying whether a plant-based in vitro system, the pollen tube, could be used to evaluate the cytotoxic potential of exogenous flavonols. Increasing concentrations of the aglycone, quercetin, and its glycoside, rutin, were assayed with regard to tube growth of kiwifruit pollen, determined by applying the pollen tube growth test protocol. This test, based on the photometric quantification of pollen tube mass production in suspension cultures, has already been applied in the sensitive and reliable toxicological evaluation of a wide range of chemicals. Whereas 60–800µM rutin promoted kiwifruit pollen tube elongation, 10–50µM quercetin strongly inhibited growth, and also produced irreversible malformations, such as screw-like tube growth, abnormal vacuolation, alteration of organelle streaming, and nuclear positioning. Thus, the cytotoxic potentials of the two flavonols have been confirmed to differ. Pollen tubes seem to afford a promising test system for a preventive, rapid in vitro biosafety assessment of antioxidant nutritional supplements, without using laboratory animals.