The present study was carried out to investigate the modulating effects of the two flavonoids quercetin and rutin on the mutagenic anticancer drug mitomycin C by single cell gel electrophoresis (Comet assay) in human lymphocytes. Lymphocytes were incubated with different concentrations of quercetin and rutin, with or without mitomycin C, and DNA damage was evaluated. Concentrations of 0.03, 0.15, 0.3, 0.6, 1.5 and 3 mM quercetin significantly reduced the DNA strand breakage induced by mitomycin C (P<0.001) but the highest concentration of 6 mM quercetin did not show a protective effect. The frequency of damaged cells induced by mitomycin C was not changed at 0.02 mM, and also at the highest concentrations of 1.64 and 3.28 mM rutin. However, at concentrations of 0.08, 0.16, 0.33 and 0.82 mM rutin cells were protected from DNA damage. Thus, in human lymphocytes quercetin and rutin displayed protective effects on DNA damage induced by mitomycin C, in a concentration-dependent manner. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.