Structure-function relationships of Nile blue (EtNBS) derivatives as antimicrobial photosensitizers

Daniela Vecchio, Brijesh Bhayana, Liyi Huang, Elisa Carrasco, Conor L. Evans, Michael R. Hamblin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


The benzophenothiazinium dye EtNBS has previously been tested as a photosensitizer to mediate photodynamic therapy (PDT). It has been employed to kill cancer cells and microbial cells in vitro and to treat tumors and infections in vivo. We synthesized a panel of derivatives substituted at the 1-position of the benzene ring with electron donating or electron withdrawing groups (amino, acetamido and nitro) and tested their production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and light-mediated killing of two species of Gram-positive and two species of Gram-negative bacteria. All three compounds showed lower fluorescence, lower yield of ROS and less microbial killing than parent EtNBS, while the order of activity (nitro > amino > acetamido) showed that an electron withdrawing substituent was better than electron donating. To test the hypothesis that 1-substitution distorts the planar structure of the conjugated rings we compared two compounds substituted with N-ethylpropylsulfonamido either at the 1-position or at the 4-position. The 4-isomer was significantly more photoactive than the 1-isomer. We also prepared an EtNBS derivative with a guanidinium group attached to the 5-amino group. This compound had high activity against Gram-negative bacteria due to the extra positive charge. Cellular uptake of the compounds by the four bacterial species was also measured and broadly correlated with activity. These results provided three separate pieces of structure-activity relationship data for antimicrobial photosensitizers based on the EtNBS backbone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-491
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Medicinal Chemistry
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Benzophenothiazinium dye
  • Electron withdrawing/donating substituents
  • Gram-negative bacteria
  • Gram-positive bacteria
  • Nile blue derivatives antimicrobial photodynamic inactivation
  • Structure-activity relationships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Organic Chemistry


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