Cyclometalated iridium(iii) N-heterocyclic carbene complexes as potential mitochondrial anticancer and photodynamic agents†
Metal N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC) complexes represent a promising class of anticancer therapeutic agents. In this work, four cyclometalated iridium(III) complexes (Ir1–Ir4) containing N-heterocyclic carbene ligands have been explored as mitochondrial anticancer and photodynamic agents. These complexes are more cytotoxic than cisplatin against the cancer cells screened, can quickly penetrate into A549 cells and are mainly localized in the mitochondria. Mechanism studies show that these complexes exert their anticancer efficacy by increasing the intracellular ROS level, reducing the mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) and inducing apoptosis. Additionally, Ir1–Ir4 exhibited two orders of magnitude higher cytotoxicity upon irradiation at 450 nm LED light. Our work provides a strategy for the design of highly effective anticancer photodynamic therapeutic agent based phosphorescent iridium complexes.