Flavonoids possess different interesting biological properties, including antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities. However, unfortunately, these molecules present different bottlenecks, such as low aqueous solubility, photo and oxidative degradability, high first-pass effect, poor intestinal absorption and, hence, low systemic bioavailability. A variety of delivery systems have been developed to circumvent these drawbacks, and among them, in this work niosomes have been selected to encapsulate the hepatoprotective natural flavonoid quercetin. The aim of this study was to prepare nanosized quercetin-loaded niosomes, formulated with different monolaurate sugar esters (i.e., sorbitan C12; glucose C12; trehalose C12; sucrose C12) that act as non-ionic surfactants and with cholesterol as stabilizer (1:1 and 2:1 ratio). Niosomes were characterized under the physicochemical, thermal and morphological points of view. Moreover, after the analyses of the in vitro biocompatibility and the drug-release profile, the hepatoprotective activity of the selected niosomes was evaluated in vivo, using the carbon tetrachloride (CCl4
)-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. Furthermore, the levels of glutathione and glutathione peroxidase (GSH and GPX) were measured. Based on results, the best formulation selected was glucose laurate/cholesterol at molar ratio of 1:1, presenting spherical shape and a particle size (PS) of 161 ± 4.6 nm, with a drug encapsulation efficiency (EE%) as high as 83.6 ± 3.7% and sustained quercetin release. These niosomes showed higher hepatoprotective effect compared to free quercetin in vivo, measuring serum biomarker enzymes (i.e., alanine and aspartate transaminases (ALT and AST)) and serum biochemical parameters (i.e., alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and total proteins), while following the histopathological investigation. This study confirms the ability of quercetin loaded niosomes to reverse CCl4
intoxication and to carry out an antioxidant effect.
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