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Photochem Photobiol. 2002 Feb;75(2):107-16.

Photophysical and photochemical studies of 2-phenylbenzimidazole and UVB sunscreen 2-phenylbenzimidazole-5-sulfonic acid.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry, NIEHS, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.


The sunscreen agent 2-phenylbenzimidazole-5-sulfonic acid (PBSA) and its parent 2-phenylbenzimidazole (PBI) cause DNA photodamage via both Type-I and Type-II mechanisms when UVB irradiated. We have studied the photophysical and photochemical properties of these compounds and their ability to photogenerate reactive oxygen species including free radicals. PBI and PBSA exhibit both oxidizing and reducing properties in their excited state. The absorption and fluorescence properties of PBSA depend strongly upon pH, and hence the photochemistry of PBSA was studied in both neutral and alkaline solutions. PBSA showed strong oxidizing properties when UV irradiated in neutral aqueous solution (pH 7.4) in the presence of cysteine, glutathione and azide, as evidenced by the detection of the corresponding S-cysteinyl, glutathiyl and azidyl radicals with the aid of the spin trap, 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DMPO). However, when an aqueous anaerobic solution (pH 10) of PBSA and either nitromethane (NM) or 4-nitrobenzoic acid (4-NBA) were irradiated, the corresponding nitro anion radicals were observed. This finding suggests that both NM and 4-NBA are reduced by direct electron transfer from the excited state PBSA. During UV irradiation of an aerobic solution of PBSA, O2*- and *OH radical were generated and trapped by DMPO. Further, PBI (in ethanol) and PBSA (in ethylene glycol : water 2: 1 mixture) showed low temperature (77 K) phosphorescence (lambdamax = 443, 476 and 509 nm) and also an electron paramagnetic resonance half-field transition (deltaMs = +/-2), which is evidence for a triplet state. This triplet produced singlet oxygen (1O2) with quantum yields 0.07 and 0.04 in MeCN for PBI and PBSA, respectively. These studies demonstrate that UV irradiation of PBSA and PBI generates a variety of free radicals and active oxygen species that may be involved in the photodamage of DNA.

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