Massive Bioaccumulation and Self-Assembly of Phenazine Compounds in Live Cells. Academic Article uri icon


  • Clofazimine is an orally administered, FDA-approved drug that massively bioaccumulates in macrophages, forming membrane-bound intracellular structures possessing nanoscale supramolecular features. Here, a library of phenazine compounds derived from clofazimine was synthesized and tested for their ability to accumulate and form ordered molecular aggregates inside cells. Regardless of chemical structure or physicochemical properties, bioaccumulation was consistently greater in macrophages than in epithelial cells. Microscopically, some self-assembled structures exhibited a pronounced, diattenuation anisotropy signal, evident by the differential absorption of linearly polarized light, at the peak absorbance wavelength of the phenazine core. The measured anisotropy was well above the background anisotropy of endogenous cellular components, reflecting the self-assembly of condensed, insoluble complexes of ordered phenazine molecules. Chemical variations introduced at the R-imino position of the phenazine core led to idiosyncratic effects on the compounds' bioaccumulation behavior, as well as on the morphology and organization of the resulting intracellular structures. Beyond clofazimine, these results demonstrate how the self-assembly of membrane-permeant, orally-bioavailable small molecule building blocks can endow cells with unnatural structural elements possessing chemical, physical and functional characteristics unlike those of other natural cellular components.

publication date

  • August 2015