The chemotherapeutic potential of coumarin-3-carboxylic acid (C-3-COOH) and a series of three hydroxylated coumarin-3-carboxylic acid ligands, namely 6-hydroxy-coumarin-3-carboxylic acid (6-OH-C-3-COOH), 7-hydroxy-coumarin-3-carboxylic acid (7-OH-C-3-COOH) and 8-hydroxy-coumarin-3-carboxylic acid (8-OH-C-3-COOH), along with their corresponding silver-based complexes, namely 6-hydroxycoumarin-3-carboxylatosilver (6-OH-C-COO-Ag), 7-hydroxycoumarin-3-carboxylatosilver (7-OH-C-COO-Ag) and 8-hydroxycoumarin-3-carboxylatosilver (8-OH-C-COO-Ag), was determined using two human-derived carcinoma (A-498 and Hep-G2), along with two non-carcinoma human-derived cell lines (CHANG and HK-2). All of the ligands and their silver complexes induced a concentration-dependent cytotoxic effect. Furthermore, hydroxylation of C-3-COOH and its subsequent complexation with silver led to the production of a series of compounds with dramatically enhanced cytotoxicity, with 6-OH-C-3-COO-Ag having the greatest activity. Additionally, all of the metal-based complexes were selectively cytotoxic to both carcinoma-derived cell lines, relative to normal renal and hepatic cells. In comparative studies with cisplatin, and based on the IC50 values obtained with Hep-G2 cells, it appeared that the coumarin-silver complexes were between 2 and 5.5 times more cytotoxic than cisplatin. All of the coumarin-silver complexes inhibited DNA synthesis, which did not appear to be mediated through intercalation. Furthermore, results obtained from Ames tests showed that all of the test agents and their phase I metabolites were non-mutagenic. Taken together, these findings suggest that both hydroxylation particularly in the 6th position and complexation with silver, served to significantly augment the cytotoxic properties of C-3-COOH, to yield a compound which acts as a cyto-selective agent, as it is a significant killer of cancer, relative to normal cells. We suggest that this group of compounds may have a therapeutic role to play in the successful treatment and management of cancer in man. Â© 2006 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.