Despite its importance, little is known about the absolute performance and the mechanism for quercetin’s antioxidant activity in water solution. We have investigated this aspect by combining differential oxygen-uptake kinetic measurements and B3LYP/6311+g (d,p) calculations. At pH = 2.1 (30 °C), quercetin had modest activity (kinh
= 4.0 × 103
), superimposable to catechol. On raising the pH to 7.4, reactivity was boosted 40-fold, trapping two peroxyl radicals in the chromen-4-one core and two in the catechol with kinh
of 1.6 × 105
and 7.0 × 104
. Reaction occurs from the equilibrating mono-anions in positions 4′ and 7 and involves firstly the OH in position 3, having bond dissociation enthalpies of 75.0 and 78.7 kcal/mol, respectively, for the two anions. Reaction proceeds by a combination of proton-coupled electron-transfer mechanisms: electron–proton transfer (EPT) and sequential proton loss electron transfer (SPLET). Our results help rationalize quercetin’s reactivity with peroxyl radicals and its importance under biomimetic settings, to act as a nutritional antioxidant.
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