Acridine dyes, fluorescein and lucifer yellow CH are fluorescent photosensitizers used experimentally to selectively stain and photodynamically destroy eukaryotic cells and subcellular structures. We have determined that the mechanism of light- and oxygen-dependent inactivation of E. coli by these dyes involves oxygen radicals and hydrogen peroxide. All of the dyes oxidized NAD(P)H+ under illumination. Superoxide (O2), detected as the superoxide dismutase (SOD)-inhibitable reduction of ferricytochrome c, was a major product of the dye sensitized photooxidation. Cationic acridine dyes penetrated the membranes of E. coli and were photoreduced intracellularly. Reduced dyes diffused back into the medium and mediated the reduction of extracellular ferricytochrome c. The anionic dyes fluorescein and lucifer yellow CH were unable to mediate extracellular cytochrome c reduction, indicating that these dyes were impermeable to the E. coli membrane. Acridine dyes, when illuminated, inhibited the growth of E. coli in a rich medium, and induced the synthesis of SOD. Fluorescein and lucifer yellow CH did not inhibit growth or induce SOD synthesis because they were unable to enter the cells. Superoxide (O2) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), generated by the enzyme xanthine oxidase were toxic to E. coli B. Inactivation by xanthine oxidase was partially inhibited by exogenous SOD and completely inhibited by exogenous catalase or SOD plus catalase. Similarly, exogenous SOD plus catalase protected against inactivation by acridines and fluorescein-NADH or lucifer yellow CH-NADH mixtures. Prior induction of superoxide dismutase and catalase in E. coli B significantly protected cells against a subsequent challenge by illuminated acridine dyes. SOD and catalases preinduction combined with additions of exogenous SOD and catalase completely protected E. coli B against photodynamic inactivation by acridine yellow. The hydroxyl radical scavengers, dimethyl sulfoxide, sodium benzoate and thiourea, protected E. coli B against photodynamic inactivation by acridine orange. The results implicate O2, H2O2, and the hydroxyl radical (OH) as underlying molecular agents of the phototoxicity mediated by acridine orange, acridine yellow, fluorescein and lucifer yellow CH.
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