Para -N-Methylpyridinium Pyrenes: Impact of Positive Charge on ds-DNA/RNA and Protein Recognition, Photo-Induced Bioactivity, and Intracellular Localisation
The 2- and 2,7- substituted para -N-methylpyridinium pyrene cations show high-affinity intercalation into ds-DNAs, whereas their non-methylated analogues interacted with ds-DNA/RNA only in the protonated form (at pH 5), but not at physiological conditions (pH 7). The fluorescence from non-methylated analogues was strongly dependent on the protonation of the pyridines; consequently, they act as fluorescence ratiometric probes for simultaneous detection of both ds-DNA and BSA at pH 5, relying on the ratio between intensities at 420 nm (BSA specific) and 520 nm (DNA specific), whereby exclusively ds-DNA sensing could be switched-off by adjustment to pH 7. Only methylated, permanently charged pyrenes show photoinduced cleavage of circular DNA, attributed to pyrene-mediated irradiation-induced production of singlet oxygen. Consequently, the moderate toxicity of these cations against human cell lines is strongly increased upon irradiation. Detailed studies revealed increased total ROS production in cells treated by the compounds studied, accompanied by cell swelling and augmentation of cellular complexity. The most photo-active 2- para -N-methylpyridinium pyrene showed significant localization at mitochondria, its photo-bioactivity likely due to mitochondrial DNA damage. Other derivatives were mostly non-selectively distributed between various cytoplasmic organelles, thus being less photoactive.