Importance of Metal-Ion Exchange for the Biological Activity of Coordination Complexes of the Biomimetic Ligand N4Py

Metal coordination complexes can display interesting biological activity, as illustrated by the bleomycins (BLMs), a family of natural antibiotics that when coordinated to a redox-active metal ion, show antitumor activity. Yet, which metal ion is required for the activity in cells is still subject to debate. In this study, we described how different metal ions affect the intracellular behavior and activity of the synthetic BLM-mimic N,N-bis­(2-pyridylmethyl)-N-bis­(2-pyridyl)­methylamine (N4Py). Our study shows that a mixture of iron­(II), copper­(II), and zinc­(II) complexes can be generated when N4Py is added to cell cultures but that the metal ion can also be exchanged by other metal ions present in cells. Moreover, the combination of chemical data, together with the performed biological experiments, shows that the active complex causing oxidative damage to cells is the FeII-N4Py complex and not per se the metal complex that was initially added to the cell culture medium. Finally, it is proposed that the high activity observed upon the addition of the free N4Py ligand is the result of a combination of scavenging of biologically relevant metals and oxidative damage caused by the iron­(II) complex.