Intracellular Localization Studies of the Luminescent Analogue of an Anticancer Ruthenium Iminophosphorane with High Efficacy in a Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Mouse Model

Kirill Miachin, Virginia Del Solar, Elsy El Khoury, Nazia Nayeem, Anton Khrystenko, Patricia Appelt, Michelle C. Neary, Daniela Buccella, Maria Contel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The potential of ruthenium(II) compounds as an alternative to platinum-based clinical anticancer agents has been unveiled after extensive research for over 2 decades. As opposed to cisplatin, ruthenium(II) compounds have distinct mechanisms of action that do not rely solely on interactions with DNA. In a previous report from our group, we described the synthesis, characterization, and biological evaluation of a cationic, water-soluble, organometallic ruthenium(II) iminophosphorane (IM) complex of p-cymene, ([(η 6- p-cymene)Ru{(Ph 3P═N-CO-2N-C 5H 4)-κ-N,O}Cl]Cl ( 1 or Ru-IM), that was found to be highly cytotoxic against a panel of cell lines resistant to cisplatin, including triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) MDA-MB-231, through canonical or caspase-dependent apoptosis. Studies on a MDA-MB-231 xenograft mice model (after 28 days of treatment) afforded an excellent tumor reduction of 56%, with almost negligible systemic toxicity, and a favored ruthenium tumor accumulation compared to other organs. 1 is known to only interact weakly with DNA, but its intracellular distribution and ultimate targets remain unknown. To gain insight on potential mechanisms for this highly efficacious ruthenium compound, we have developed two luminescent analogues containing the BOPIPY fluorophore (or a modification) in the IM scaffold with the general structure of [(η 6- p-cymene)Ru{(BODIPY-Ph 2P═N-CO-2-NC 5H 4)-κ-N,O}Cl]Cl {BODIPY-Ph 2P = 8-[(4-diphenylphosphino)phenyl]-4,4-dimethyl-1,3,5,7-tetramethyl-2,6-diethyl-4-bora-3a,4a-diaza- s-indacene ( 3a) and 4,4-difluoro-8-[4-[[2-[4-(diphenylphosphino)benzamido]ethyl]carbamoyl]phenyl]-1,3,5,7-tetramethyl,2,6-diethyl-4-bora-3a,4a-diaza- s-indacene ( 3b)}. We report on the synthesis, characterization, lipophilicity, stability, luminescence properties, and cell viability studies in the TNBC cell line MDA-MB-231, nonmalignant breast cells (MCF10a), and lung fibroblasts (IMR-90) of the new compounds. The ruthenium derivative 3b was studied by fluorescence confocal microscopy. These studies point to a preferential accumulation of the compound in the endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and lysosomes. Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) analysis also confirms a greater ruthenium accumulation in the cytoplasmic fraction, including endoplasmic reticulum and lysosomes, and a smaller percentage of accumulation in mitochondria and the nucleus. ICP-OES analysis of the parent compound 1 indicates that it accumulates preferentially in the mitochondria and cytoplasm. Subsequent experiments in 1-treated MDA-MB-231 cells demonstrate significant reactive oxygen species generation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19152-19164
Number of pages13
JournalInorganic Chemistry
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 20 2021


  • Ruthenium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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