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Methyl Viologens of Bis-(4’-Pyridylethynyl)Arenes – Structures, Photophysical and Electrochemical Studies, and their Potential Application in Biology

By Kole, Goutam Kumar; Košćak, Marta; Amar, Anissa; Majhen, Dragomira; Božinović, Ksenija; Brkljaca, Zlatko; Ferger, Matthias; Michail, Evripidis; Lorenzen, Sabine; Friedrich, Alexandra; Krummenacher, Ivo; Moos, Michael; Braunschweig, Holger; Boucekkine, Abdou; Lambert, Christoph; Halet, Jean-François; Piantanida, Ivo; Müller-Buschbaum, Klaus; Marder, Todd B.
Published in Chemistry – A European Journal 2022


Abstract A series of bis-(4’-pyridylethynyl)arenes (arene=benzene, tetrafluorobenzene, and anthracene) were synthesized and their bis-N-methylpyridinium compounds were investigated as a class of π-extended methyl viologens. Their structures were determined by single crystal X-ray diffraction, and their photophysical and electrochemical properties (cyclic voltammetry), as well as their interactions with DNA/RNA were investigated. The dications showed bathochromic shifts in emission compared to the neutral compounds. The neutral compounds showed very small Stokes shifts, which are a little larger for the dications. All of the compounds showed very short fluorescence lifetimes (<4 ns). The neutral compound with an anthracene core has a quantum yield of almost unity. With stronger acceptors, the analogous bis-N-methylpyridinium compound showed a larger two-photon absorption cross-section than its neutral precursor. All of the dicationic compounds interact with DNA/RNA; while the compounds with benzene and tetrafluorobenzene cores bind in the grooves, the one with an anthracene core intercalates as a consequence of its large, condensed aromatic linker moiety, and it aggregates within the polynucleotide when in excess over DNA/RNA. Moreover, all cationic compounds showed highly specific CD spectra upon binding to ds-DNA/RNA, attributed to the rare case of forcing the planar, achiral molecule into a chiral rotamer, and negligible toxicity toward human cell lines at ≤10 μM concentrations. The anthracene-analogue exhibited intracellular accumulation within lysosomes, preventing its interaction with cellular DNA/RNA. However, cytotoxicity was evident at 1 μM concentration upon exposure to light, due to singlet oxygen generation within cells. These multi-faceted features, in combination with its two-photon absorption properties, suggest it to be a promising lead compound for development of novel light-activated theranostic agents.

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