We studied the bioavailability and the plasma transport of flavonols in rats fed quercetin or rutin diets. Wistar rats were fed one of the following purified diets for 10 d: control; 16.4 or 8.2 mmol rutin/kg diet; or 16.4, 8.2 or 4.1 mmol quercetin/kg diet. Flavonol concentrations were determined in plasma, ileal and cecal contents, and feces. In rats fed diets containing 16.4 mmol quercetin or rutin/kg, the concentration of circulating flavonols was approximately 115 mumol/L. Quercetin or rutin administration resulted in similar concentrations of quercetin in cecal contents. By HPLC analysis and beta-glucuronidase/sulfatase treatment, plasma flavonols have been identified as conjugated quercetin itself, or a conjugated form (4.5-fold as abundant) of an aglycone less polar than quercetin. Rats fed quercetin or rutin diets had a green/yellow-colored plasma that exhibited a peak absorbance at 411 nm, vs. 363 or 375 nm for pure rutin or quercetin solutions, respectively. This shift of band I absorption was obtained when pure quercetin was in the presence of albumin or added to a plasma fraction. The bathochromic properties of flavonoids in the presence of albumin are highly dependent on the presence of the C-2/C-3 double bond on the C-ring and are influenced by the degree of B-ring hydroxylation. The existence of intermolecular bonds between albumin and quercetin is supported by in vitro absorbance and fluorescence studies. With human albumin, the fluorescence intensity and the shift of quercetin absorbance increased in parallel to the albumin/quercetin molar ratio. Conjugated diene formation, resulting from Cu(2+)-catalyzed oxidation of human LDL or rat VLDL+LDL was effectively inhibited in vitro by 0.5 mumol/L quercetin. These results show that dietary flavonols are recovered in rat plasma as conjugated metabolites in non-negligible concentrations, and that these flavonols may be interesting antioxidant micronutrients with a variety of biological effects.