Fullerenes as photosensitizers in photodynamic therapy: pros and cons
One class of carbon nanomaterials is the closed cages known as fullerenes. The first member to be discovered in 1985 was C60, called “buckminsterfullerene” as its cage structure resembled a geodesic dome. Due to their extended π-conjugation they absorb visible light, possess a high triplet yield and can generate reactive oxygen species upon illumination, suggesting a possible role of fullerenes in photodynamic therapy (PDT). Pristine C60 is highly hydrophobic and prone to aggregation, necessitating functionalization to provide aqueous solubility and biocompatibility. The most common functional groups attached are anionic (carboxylic or sulfonic acids) or cationic (various quaternary ammonium groups). Depending on the functionalization, these fullerenes can be designed to be taken up into cancer cells, or to bind to microbial cells (Gram-positive, Gram-negative bacteria, fungi). Fullerenes can be excited with a wide range of wavelengths, UVA, blue, green or white light. We have reported a series of functionalized fullerenes (C60, C70, C82) with attached polycationic chains and additional light-harvesting antennae that can be used in vitro and in animal models of localized infections. Advantages of fullerenes as photosensitizers are: (a) versatile functionalization; (b) light-harvesting antennae; (c) ability to undergo Type 1, 2, and 3 photochemistry; (d) electron transfer can lead to oxygen-independent photokilling; (e) antimicrobial activity can be potentiated by inorganic salts; (f) can self-assemble into supramolecular fullerosomes; (g) components of theranostic nanoparticles; (h) high resistance to photobleaching. Disadvantages include: (a) highly hydrophobic and prone to aggregation; (b) overall short wavelength absorption; (c) relatively high molecular weight; (d) paradoxically can be anti-oxidants; (e) lack of fluorescence emission for imaging.
- This article is part of the themed collections: 2018 Perspective article collection and Nano- and Molecular Engineering of Photosensitisers