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Tackling microbial resistance requires continuous efforts for the development of new molecules with novel mechanisms of action and potent antimicrobial activity. Our group has previously identified metal-based compounds, [Ag(1,10-phenanthroline-5,6-dione)2]ClO4 (Ag-phendione) and [Cu(1,10-phenanthroline-5,6-dione)3](ClO4)2.4H2O (Cu-phendione), with efficient antimicrobial action against multidrug-resistant species. Herein, we investigated the ability of Ag-phendione and Cu-phendione to bind with double-stranded DNA using a combination of in silico and in vitro approaches. Molecular docking revealed that both phendione derivatives can interact with the DNA by hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic and electrostatic interactions. Cu-phendione exhibited the highest binding affinity to either major (− 7.9 kcal/mol) or minor (− 7.2 kcal/mol) DNA grooves. In vitro competitive quenching assays involving duplex DNA with Hoechst 33258 or ethidium bromide demonstrated that Ag-phendione and Cu-phendione preferentially bind DNA in the minor grooves. The competitive ethidium bromide displacement technique revealed Cu-phendione has a higher binding affinity to DNA (Kapp = 2.55 × 106 M−1) than Ag-phendione (Kapp = 2.79 × 105 M−1) and phendione (Kapp = 1.33 × 105 M−1). Cu-phendione induced topoisomerase I-mediated DNA relaxation of supercoiled plasmid DNA. Moreover, Cu-phendione was able to induce oxidative DNA injuries with the addition of free radical scavengers inhibiting DNA damage. Ag-phendione and Cu-phendione avidly displaced propidium iodide bound to DNA in permeabilized Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells in a dose-dependent manner as judged by flow cytometry. The treatment of P. aeruginosa with bactericidal concentrations of Cu-phendione (15 µM) induced DNA fragmentation as visualized by either agarose gel or TUNEL assays. Altogether, these results highlight a possible novel DNA-targeted mechanism by which phendione-containing complexes, in part, elicit toxicity toward the multidrug-resistant pathogen P. aeruginosa.



Science Foundation Ireland; Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq); Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa no Estado do Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ); Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES).