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Biochem Pharmacol. 1996 Jun 14;51(11):1461-7.

Structurally modified trimethine thiacarbocyanine dyes. Effect of N-alkyl substituents on antineoplastic behavior.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, MACC Fund Research Center, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee 53226, USA.


The effect of dye localization and dye distribution on the antineoplastic behavior of photosensitizers was investigated with a homologous series of trimethine thiacarbocyanine dyes in L1210 leukemia and A549 lung carcinoma cells. These dyes were synthesized with N-alkyl groups of different sizes (ethyl to octadecyl) to vary their lipophilic properties without compromising their photophysics. While dyes with smaller N-alkyl groups (ethyl to decyl) were already cytotoxic in the dark, longer chain cyanines exhibited antineoplastic activity only after exposure to light. Results from this study indicate that the switch from dark cytotoxicity to phototoxicity occurred when dyes, due to a decrease in cationic character with increasing size of alkyl substituents, were no longer able to cross the plasma membrane. Dark cytotoxicity decreased with increasing size of N-alkyl groups and was cell-line independent. On the other hand, photodynamic damage varied by several orders of magnitude depending on the cell line and the length of the alkyl substituents. The most effective photosensitizer was the dioctadecyl dye which achieved a 4- to 5-log reduction of leukemia cells, although it had very modest triplet and singlet oxygen quantum yields of 0.008 and 0.006, respectively. This study also showed that photobiological performance can be improved greatly by optimizing dye binding properties via structural modifications.

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