A combination of light, oxygen and a photosensitizer is used to induce death of cancer cells by photodynamic therapy. In this study, we have synthesized several new methyl helianthrone derivatives and compared their phototoxicity with that of hypericin. In contrast to hypericin, methyl helianthrones are soluble in aqueous solutions and have a broad range of light absorbance, which allows the use of polychromatic light. Structural modifications of methyl helianthrone demonstrated that substitution of hydrogen atoms of methyl helianthrone at Positions 2 and 5 with Br atoms or methylation of its phenolic hydroxyls, significantly increases the corresponding singlet oxygen quantum yield and their phototoxicity toward αT3-1, M2R and LNCaP cells. The phototoxicity of some of these compounds was similar to that of hypericin. Methyl helianthrones, like hypericin, accumulated mainly in the perinuclear region as evident by confocal microscopy. Irradiation of cells pretreated with methyl helianthrone derivatives generates intracellular reactive oxygen species and lipid free radicals, as shown by a fluorescentic probe and electron paramagnetic resonance methods, respectively. The phototoxicity of these methyl helianthrones as well as their ability to oxidize membrane lipids were significantly decreased on addition of specific Type-II inhibitors, suggesting the involvement of singlet oxygen as the main oxidant.
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Vol. 81 • No. 2