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On the photobehaviour of curcumin in biocompatible hosts: The role of H-abstraction in the photodegradation and photosensitization.

Curcumin (CUR) is a naturally occurring pigment extensively studied due to its therapeutic activity and delivered by suitable nanocarriers to overcome poor solubility in aqueous media. The significant absorption of CUR in the visible blue region has prompted its use as a potential phototherapeutic agent in treating infectious and cancer diseases, although the mechanism underlying the phototoxic effects is still not fully understood. This contribution investigates the photobehaviour of CUR within polymeric micelles, microemulsions, and zein nanoparticles, chosen as biocompatible nanocarriers, and human serum albumin as a representative biomolecule. Spectroscopic studies indicate that in all host systems, the enolic tautomeric form of CUR is converted in a significant amount of the diketo form because of the perturbation of the intramolecular hydrogen bond. This leads to intermolecular H-abstraction from the host components by the lowest excited triplet state of CUR with the formation of the corresponding ketyl radical, detected by nanosecond laser flash photolysis. This radical is oxidized by molecular oxygen, likely generating peroxyl and hydroperoxyl radical species, unless in Zein, reasonably due to the poor availability of oxygen in the closely packed structure of this nanocarrier. In contrast, no detectable formation of singlet oxygen was revealed in all the systems. Overall these results highlight the key role of the H-abstraction process over singlet oxygen sensitization as a primary photochemical pathway strictly dictated by the specific features of the microenvironment, providing new insights into the photoreactivity of CUR in biocompatible hosts that can also be useful for a better understanding of its phototoxicity mechanism.

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