All of the actinides are radioactive. Taken into the body, they damage and induce cancer in bone and liver, and in the lungs if inhaled, and U(VI) is a chemical kidney poison. Containment of radionuclides is fundamental to radiation protection, but if it is breached accidentally or deliberately, decontamination of exposed persons is needed to reduce the consequences of radionuclide intake. The only known way to reduce the health risks of internally deposited actinides is to accelerate their excretion with chelating agents. Ethylendiaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) and diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (DTPA) were introduced in the 1950’s. DTPA is now clinically accepted, but its oral activity is low, it must be injected as a Ca(II) or Zn(II) chelate to avoid toxicity, and it is structurally unsuitable for chelating U(VI) or Np(V). Actinide penetration into the mammalian iron transport and storage systems suggested that actinide ions would form stable complexes with the Fe(III)-binding units found in potent selective natural iron chelators (siderophores). Testing of that biomimetic approach began in the late 1970’s with the design, production, and assessment for in vivo Pu(IV) chelation of synthetic multidentate ligands based on the backbone structures and Fe(III)-binding groups of siderophores. New efficacious actinide chelators have emerged from that program, in particular, octadentate 3,4,3-LI(1,2-HOPO) and tetradentate 5-LIO(Me-3,2-HOPO) have potential for clinical acceptance. Both are much more effective than CaNa3-DTPA for decorporation of Pu(IV), Am(III), U(VI), and Np(IV,V), they are orally active, and toxicity is acceptably low at effective dosage.
* Division of Chemical Sciences, 70A-1150, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720.
For correspondence contact the author at the above address, or email at PWDurbin-Heavey@lbl.gov.
(Manuscript accepted 1 July 2008)