A cytotoxic bis(1,2,3-triazol-5-ylidene)carbazolide gold(III) complex targets DNA by partial intercalation

15 Sep 2021

The syntheses of bis(triazolium)carbazole precursors and their corresponding coinage metal (Au, Ag) complexes are reported. For alkylated triazolium salts, di- or tetranuclear complexes with bridging ligands were isolated, while the bis (aryl) analogue afforded a bis(carbene) AuI -CNC pincer complex suitable for oxidation to the redox-stable [AuIII(CNC) Cl]+ cation. Although the ligand salt and the [AuIII(CNC)Cl]+ complex were both notably cytotoxic toward the breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-231, the AuIII complex was somewhat more selective. Electrophoresis, viscometry, UV-vis, CD and LD spectroscopy suggest the cytotoxic [AuIII(CNC)Cl]+ complex behaves as a partial DNA intercalator. In silico screening indicated that the [AuIII(CNC)Cl]+ complex can target DNA three-way junctions with good specificity, several other regular B-DNA forms, and Z-DNA. Multiple hydrophobic πtype interactions involving T and A bases appear to be important for B-form DNA binding, while phosphate O···Au interactions evidently underpin Z-DNA binding. The CNC ligand effectively stabilizes the AuIII ion, preventing reduction in the presence of glutathione. Both the redox stability and DNA affinity of the hit compound might be key factors underpinning its cytotoxicity in vitro.