Cell Uptake of Steroid-BODIPY Conjugates and Their Internalization Mechanisms: Cancer Theranostic Dyes

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Estradiol-BODIPY linked via an 8-carbon spacer chain and 19-nortestosterone- and testosterone-BODIPY linked via an ethynyl spacer group were evaluated for cell uptake in the breast cancer cell lines MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 and prostate cancer cell lines PC-3 and LNCaP, as well as in normal dermal fibroblasts, using fluorescence microscopy. The highest level of internalization was observed with 11β-OMe-estradiol-BODIPY 2 and 7α-Me-19-nortestosterone-BODIPY 4 towards cells expressing their specific receptors. Blocking experiments showed changes in non-specific cell uptake in the cancer and normal cells, which likely reflect differences in the lipophilicity of the conjugates. The internalization of the conjugates was shown to be an energy-dependent process that is likely mediated by clathrin- and caveolae-endocytosis. Studies using 2D co-cultures of cancer cells and normal fibroblasts showed that the conjugates are more selective towards cancer cells. Cell viability assays showed that the conjugates are non-toxic for cancer and/or normal cells. Visible light irradiation of cells incubated with estradiol-BODIPYs 1 and 2 and 7α-Me-19-nortestosterone-BODIPY 4 induced cell death, suggesting their potential for use as PDT agents.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3600
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2023


  • androgen-BODIPY conjugates
  • estradiol-BODIPY conjugates
  • fluorescence imaging
  • photodynamic therapy
  • photosensitizers
  • receptor-mediated cell uptake


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