BACKGROUND: The French paradox has been associated with regular intake of red wine, which is enriched with flavonoids. Quercetin, a flavonoid present in the human diet, exerts cardiovascular protection through its antioxidant properties. We hypothesized that the beneficial effect of quercetin also could be related to the inhibition of vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation and migration. METHODS: Human aortic smooth muscle cells (AoSMC) were grown in culture in the presence of serum. Quercetin inhibited the serum-induced proliferation of AoSMC. This inhibition was dose-dependent and not attributed to toxicity. Cell cycle analysis revealed that quercetin arrested AoSMC in the G(0)/G(1) phase. The effect of quercetin on AoSMC migration was examined using explant migration and Transwell migration assays. Quercetin significantly decreased migration in both assays in a consistent manner. Finally, Western blot analysis of AoSMC exposed to quercetin demonstrated a significant reduction in the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase, a signaling pathway associated with the migration of vascular smooth muscle cells. CONCLUSIONS: Quercetin inhibits the proliferation and migration of AoSMC, concomitant with inhibition of mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphorylation. These findings provide new insights and a rationale for the potential use of quercetin in the prophylaxis of cardiovascular diseases.