Metal-NHC complexes: a survey of anti-cancer properties

Dalton Trans. 2009 Sep 21:(35):6894-902. doi: 10.1039/b906308k. Epub 2009 Jul 10.


New weapons to fight cancer are constantly needed. Among chemotherapeutics, anti-cancer metal-drugs have enjoyed a long and successful history since the discovery of the benchmark cisplatin. Advances in metal-drug discovery have motivated chemists to build plethora of complex structures. Among them, a novel area is emerging. This article presents a survey of the metal-N-Heterocyclic Carbenes (Ag(I), Au(I), Pd(II) and Cu(I)-NHCs) as potential anti-cancer agents. Most of the metal-NHCs considered display higher cytotoxicities than the reference metallo-drug cisplatin. Some of them are even selective for particular cell lines. Their mechanisms of action at the cellular level are further discussed, showing that the nature of the metal is of great importance. All these promising results demonstrate that this approach deserves more attention and work.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / chemistry
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Methane / analogs & derivatives*
  • Methane / chemistry
  • Methane / pharmacology
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemical synthesis
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry
  • Organometallic Compounds / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • carbene
  • Methane