Curcumin derivatives as photosensitizers in photodynamic therapy: photophysical properties and in vitro studies with prostate cancer cells
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a minimally invasive approach to treat various forms of cancer, based on the ability of certain non-toxic molecules (photosensitizers) to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) after excitation by light of a certain wavelength and eventually induce strong phototoxic reactions against malignant cells and other pathogens. Curcumin is one of the most extensively investigated phytochemicals with a wide range of therapeutic properties and has been shown to induce strong photocytotoxic effects in micromolar concentrations against a variety of cancer cell lines. Curcumin (1) is comparatively evaluated with the naturally occurring bisdemethoxy Curcumin (2), which lacks the two methoxy groups, as well as two newly synthesized curcuminoids, the cinnamaldehyde derivative (3) and the dimethylamino one (4), designed to increase the absorption maximum and hence the tissue penetration. The synthetic curcuminoids were successfully synthesized in sufficient amounts and their photophysical properties such as absorption, fluorescence, photobleaching and free radical generation were investigated. Compound 4 exhibited a significant increase in peak absorption (497 nm) and strong fluorescent emission signals were recorded for all curcuminoids. Photobleaching of 4 was comparable to 1 whereas 2 and 3 showed more extended photobleaching but much higher ROS production in very short irradiation times. Compounds 2 and 4 exhibited specific intracellular localization. After dark and light cytotoxicity experiments against LNCaP prostate cancer cell line for all curcuminoids, concentration of 3 μM and irradiance of 6 mW cm−2 were selected for the PDT application which resulted in remarkable results with very short LD50. Curcuminoids 2 and 4 exhibited a significant dose-dependent PDT effect. The biphasic dose–response photodynamic effect observed for 1 and 3 may provide a strategy against prolonged and sustained photosensitivity.