Photosubstitution in a trisheteroleptic ruthenium complex inhibits conjunctival melanoma growth in a zebrafish orthotopic xenograft model†
In vivo data are rare but essential for establishing the clinical potential of ruthenium-based photoactivated chemotherapy (PACT) compounds, a new family of phototherapeutic drugs that are activated via ligand photosubstitution. Here a novel trisheteroleptic ruthenium complex [Ru(dpp)(bpy)(mtmp)](PF6)2 ((PF6)2, dpp = 4,7-diphenyl-1,10-phenanthroline, bpy = 2,2′-bipyridine, mtmp = 2-methylthiomethylpyridine) was synthesized and its light-activated anticancer properties were validated in cancer cell monolayers, 3D tumor spheroids, and in embryonic zebrafish cancer models. Upon green light irradiation, the non-toxic mtmp ligand is selectively cleaved off, thereby releasing a phototoxic ruthenium-based photoproduct capable notably of binding to nuclear DNA and triggering DNA damage and apoptosis within 24–48 h. In vitro, fifteen minutes of green light irradiation (21 mW cm−2, 19 J cm−2, 520 nm) were sufficient to generate high phototherapeutic indexes (PI) for this compound in a range of cancer cell lines including lung (A549), prostate (PC3Pro4), conjunctival melanoma (CRMM1, CRMM2, CM2005.1) and uveal melanoma (OMM1, OMM2.5, Mel270) cancer cell lines. The therapeutic potential of (PF6)2 was further evaluated in zebrafish embryo ectopic (PC3Pro4) or orthotopic (CRMM1, CRMM2) tumour models. The ectopic model consisted of red fluorescent PC3Pro4-mCherry cells injected intravenously (IV) into zebrafish, that formed perivascular metastatic lesions at the posterior ventral end of caudal hematopoietic tissue (CHT). By contrast, in the orthotopic model, CRMM1- and CRMM2-mCherry cells were injected behind the eye where they developed primary lesions. The maximally-tolerated dose (MTD) of (PF6)2 was first determined for three different modes of compound administration: (i) incubating the fish in prodrug-containing water (WA); (ii) injecting the prodrug intravenously (IV) into the fish; or (iii) injecting the prodrug retro-orbitally (RO) into the fish. To test the anticancer efficiency of (PF6)2, the embryos were treated 24 h after engraftment at the MTD. Optimally, four consecutive PACT treatments were performed on engrafted embryos using 60 min drug-to-light intervals and 90 min green light irradiation (21 mW cm−2, 114 J cm−2, 520 nm). Most importantly, this PACT protocol was not toxic to the zebrafish. In the ectopic prostate tumour models, where (PF6)2 showed the highest photoindex in vitro (PI > 31), the PACT treatment did not significantly diminish the growth of primary lesions, while in both conjunctival melanoma orthotopic tumour models, where (PF6)2 showed more modest photoindexes (PI ∼ 9), retro-orbitally administered PACT treatment significantly inhibited growth of the engrafted tumors. Overall, this study represents the first demonstration in zebrafish cancer models of the clinical potential of ruthenium-based PACT, here against conjunctival melanoma.