Design, Synthesis, and Biological Activity of Hydrogen Peroxide Responsive Arylboronate Melatonin Hybrids

Stimulus-responsive cleavage reactions have found broad use to direct drug release at a particular target disease area. Increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been associated with the development and progression of cancer and several other disease states, motivating the development of drug conjugates that can undergo a chemoselective ROS-triggered release. Melatonin (MLT) and the reactive electrophile p-benzoquinone methide (p-QM) have evidenced either cytoprotective or cytotoxic effects in biological systems, depending on the dose, cellular targets, and time of exposure. In this study, we report the synthesis and biological activity of two MLT derivatives linked to ROS-responsive arylboronate triggers (P1 and P2), which can be activated by endogenously generated hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to release MLT, or 5-methoxytryptamine (5-MeOT), and p-QM-intermediates. Their H2O2-induced activation mechanism was studied by HPLC-DAD-MS. P1, which rapidly releases MLT and p-QM, was able to strongly induce the Nrf2 antioxidant signaling pathway, but was ineffective to provide protection against H2O2-mediated oxidative damage. By contrast, P1 exhibited strong toxic effects in HeLa cancer cells, without causing significant toxicity to normal NCTC-2544 cells. Similar, although more limited, effects were exerted by P2. In both cases, cytotoxicity was accompanied by depletion of cellular glutathione (GSH), probably as a consequence of p-QM release, and increased ROS levels. A role for MLT in toxicity was also observed, suggesting that the P1 released products, MLT and p-QM, contributed additively to promote cell death.