Glycosyl conjugation to drugs is a strategy being used to take advantage of glucose transporters (GLUT) overexpression in cancer cells in comparison with non-cancerous cells. Its extension to the conjugation of drugs to thiosugars tries to exploit their higher biostability when compared to O-glycosides. Here, we have synthesized a series of thiosugar naphthalene diimide conjugates as G-quadruplex ligands and have explored modifications of the amino sidechain comparing dimethyl amino and morpholino groups. Then, we studied their antiproliferative activity in colon cancer cells, and their antiparasitic activity in T. brucei and L. major parasites, together with their ability to bind quadruplexes and their cellular uptake and location. We observed higher toxicity for the sugar-NDI-NMe2 derivatives than for the sugar-NDI-morph compounds, both in mammalian cells and in parasites. Our experiments indicate that a less efficient binding to quadruplexes and a worse cellular uptake of the carb-NDI-morph derivatives could be the reasons for these differences. We found small variations in cytotoxicity between O-carb-NDIs and S-carb-NDIs, except against non-cancerous human fibroblasts MRC-5, where thiosugar-NDIs tend to be less toxic. This leads to a notable selectivity for β-thiomaltosyl-NDI-NMe2 12 (9.8 fold), with an IC50 of 0.3 μM against HT-29 cells. Finally, the antiparasitic activity observed for the carb-NDI-NMe2 derivatives against T. brucei was in the nanomolar range with a good selectivity index in the range of 30- to 69- fold.
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