Targeting of a Photosensitizer to the Mitochondrion Enhances the Potency of Photodynamic Therapy

Sakkarapalayam M. Mahalingam, Josue D. Ordaz, Philip S. Low

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) involves use of a photosensitizer, whose activation with light leads to the production of singlet oxygen (SOS), generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and initiation of associated cell toxicity. Because a cell's mitochondria constitute sites where oxygen levels are high, ROS can be readily produced, and apoptosis is commonly initiated. Therefore, an ideal PDT agent might be a potent photosensitizer that could naturally accumulate in mitochondria. Although a number of mitochondria-targeting moieties, including triphenylphosphine, guanidinium, and bisguanidium, have been identified, a quantitative comparison of their efficacies in targeting mitochondria has not been performed. In this study, we have prepared triphenylphosphine, guanidinium, and bisguanidium derivatives of the FDA-approved PDT agent verteporfin (Visudyne, benzoporphyrin derivative-monoacid ring A: BPD-MA) and compared their abilities to induce the intracellular perturbations common to potent PDT agents. Cellular parameters examined included subcellular localization of the verteporfin, real-time monitoring of SOS production, quantitation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, analysis of mitochondria and chromatin integrity, characterization of cytoskeletal disruption and evaluation of cytochrome C release as a measure of apoptosis. An analysis of these parameters demonstrates that the triphenylphosphine derivative (0323) has better mitochondria-targeting efficacy, SOS production, and mitochondria membrane toxicity than either unmodified verteporfin or its guanidinium derivatives. Consistent with this potency, 0323 also induced the most prominent mitochondria swelling, actin depolymerization, pyknosis, and cytochrome C release. We conclude that triphenylphosphine has a better mitochondria-targeting moiety than guanidinium or bis-guanidinium and those PDT photosensitizers with improved cytotoxicities can be prepared by conjugating a mitochondria-targeting moiety to the desired photosensitizer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6066-6074
Number of pages9
JournalACS Omega
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 30 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)


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