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Potential of silver against human colon cancer: (synthesis, characterization and crystal structures of xylyl (Ortho, meta, & Para) linked bis-benzimidazolium salts and Ag(I)-NHC complexes: In vitro anticancer studies)

Muhammad Adnan Iqbal1, Rosenani A Haque1*, Siti Fatimah Nasri1, AMS Abdul Majid2, Mohamed B Khadeer Ahamed2, Elham Farsi2 and Tabinda Fatima1

  • * Corresponding author: Rosenani A Haque

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 The School of Chemical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia

2 EMAN Testing and Research Laboratories, The School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 USM, Penang, Malaysia

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Chemistry Central Journal 2013, 7:27  doi:10.1186/1752-153X-7-27

Published: 7 February 2013



Since the first successful synthesis of Ag(I)-N-heterocyclic carbene complex in 1993, this class of compounds has been extensively used for transmetallation reactions where the direct synthesis using other metal ions was either difficult or impossible. Initially, silver(I)-NHC complexes were tested for their catalytic potential but could not get fame because of lower potential compare to other competent compounds in this field; however, these compounds proved to have vital antimicrobial activities. These encouraging biomedical applications further convinced researchers to test these compounds against cancer. The current work has been carried out with this aim.


N-ipropylbenzimidazole was synthesized by reaction of benzimidazole with ipropyl bromide. The subsequent treatment of the resulting N-alkylbenzimidazole with ortho/meta/para-(bromomethylene) benzene afforded corresponding bis-benzimidazolium bromides (5-7). The counter anion (Br-) of each salt was replaced by hexaflourophosphate (PF6-) for the ease of handling and further purification (8-10). Each salt (Ligand), in halide form, was further allowed to react with Ag2O with stirring at room temperature for a period of two days to synthesize dinuclear Ag(I)-NHC complexes (11-13). All synthesized compounds were characterized by spectroscopic techniques and microanalysis. Molecular structures of compounds 5, 9 & 10 were established through single crystal x-ray diffraction technique. All the compounds were assessed for their anti-proliferation test on human colorectal cancer cell line (HCT 116). Results showed that the ligands (5-10) showed mild to negligible cytotoxicity on HCT 116 cells whereas respective silver complexes (11-13) exhibited dose dependent cytotoxicity towards the colon cancer cells with IC50 ranges between 9.7 to 44.5 μM. Interestingly, the complex 13 having para-xylyl spacer was found the most active (IC50 9.7 μM) that verifies our previously reported results.


All the bis-benzimidazolium salts (8-10) were found inactive whereas after bonding with silver cations, the Ag(I)-NHC complexes (11-13) showed a dose dependent cytotoxic activity. This proved that silver practice an important role in death of cancer cells. Also, the N-alkyl/aryl substitutions and ortho/metal/para xylyl units regulate the cytotoxicity.

Graphical abstract