The potential use of synthetic metal complexes able to catalyze chemical transformations in living organisms is currently attracting a great deal of attention. Recently, organometallic ruthenium and iridium complexes have revealed an unexpected ability to modulate the redox status of cancer cells. In particular, half-sandwich organoiridium(III) cyclopentadienyl complexes of general formula [(η5-Cpx)Ir(III)(X^Y)Z]0/+, where Cpx = Cp∗, Cpxph (tetramethyl-(phenyl)cyclopentadienyl) or Cpxbiph (tetramethyl(biphenyl)-cyclopentadienyl), X^Y = bidentate ligand with nitrogen, oxygen, and/or carbon donor atoms, and Z = Cl, H2O, or pyridine (py) have shown promising antiproliferative activity toward cancer cells, higher potency than cisplatin, and a different mechanism of action due to the increase of the oxidative stress in cells. As such, complexes can belong to the class of DNA interacting compounds and attack on DNA can represent a secondary mechanism of action. We have explored here by means of density functional calculations (M06-L) and with the support of experimental observations for both [(η5-Cpxbiph)Ir-(phpy) (Cl)], 1-Cl, and [(η5-Cpxbiph)Ir-(phpy) (py)], 1-py, complexes the mechanistic aspects of the hydrolysis reaction, H2O2 ROS production by assisted hydride transfer from NADH to molecular oxygen, interaction with purine nucleobases adenine and guanine as well as gluthatione, that is highly abundant in cells, alongside the reaction mechanism for the oxidation of the formed sulfur-coordinated thiolate to the corresponding sulfenato complex. The comparison between kinetic and thermodynamic parameters calculated for all the involved processes shows that, according to the hypothesis based on experimental findings, the interaction with the tripeptide glutathione causes deactivation of 1-Cl, whereas 1-py, in both its aquated and nonaquated form, can induce cell apoptosis in a dual manner: DNA damage and H2O2 ROS production to increase oxidative stress.
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