A series of quinoline-2-carboxaldehyde thiosemicarbazones and their copper(II) and nickel(II) complexes were synthesized and characterized. In all complexes the ligands are in the E configuration with respect to the imino bond and behave as terdentate. The copper(II) complexes form square planar derivatives with one molecule of terdentate ligand and chloride ion. A further non-coordinated chloride ion compensates the overall charge. Nickel(II) ions form instead octahedral complexes with two ligands for each metal ion, independently from the stoichiometric metal:ligand ratio used in the synthesis. Ligands and complexes were tested for their antiproliferative properties on histiocytic lymphoma cell line U937. Copper(II) derivatives are systematically more active than the ligands and the nickel complexes. All copper derivatives result in inhibiting topoisomerase IIa in vitro. Computational methods were used to propose a model to explain the different extent of inhibition presented by these compounds. The positive charge of the dissociated form of the copper complexes may play a key role in their action.
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