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J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Jan 13;58(1):161-71. doi: 10.1021/jf9026487.

Relationship between the antioxidant capacity and effect of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) polyphenols on membrane phospholipid order.

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Instituto de Biologia Molecular y Celular, Universidad Miguel Hernandez, Avenida de la Universidad s/n, E-03202 Elche, Alicante, Spain.


The antioxidant activity of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) extracts is mainly due to phenolic abietane diterpenes and phenolic acids such as rosmarinic acid. In this study a comprehensive characterization of non-water-soluble and water-soluble extracts from rosemary was achieved by liquid chromatography coupled to electrospray and mass spectrometry. The antioxidant activity of these extracts and their respective major compounds (carnosic acid, carnosol, rosmadial, genkwanin, and rosmarinic acid) was analyzed and compared by using different in vitro systems. Whereas rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, and carnosol exhibited similar antioxidant activity in a phospholipid membrane-free assay, carnosol behaved as an extremely potent antioxidant in a membrane-based assay (4-6 times stronger than the rest of the compounds). This differential antioxidant behavior suggests that factors other than the radical scavenging capability may be involved. All of the diterpenes induced severe effects on lipid order and packing of phospholipid model membranes. Rosmadial and carnosol decreased the number and/or mobility of water molecules located at the polar head group region of the membrane phospholipids as seen by Laurdan fluorescence spectroscopy. Carnosol also strongly enhanced lipid order at the hydrophobic core of the membrane. These effects throughout the bilayer correlated to the stronger antioxidant capacity of carnosol to inhibit lipid peroxidation. On the contrary, carnosic acid decreased membrane fluidity at deeper regions of the bilayer as measured by bilayer-to-micelle transition assay and self-quenching measurements by using octadecylrhodamine B. These effects may contribute to membrane stabilization and hindrance of radical propagation, which may cooperate with the electron donor ability of rosemary diterpenes in protecting the membranes against oxidative damage.

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