Evaluation of the Antimicrobial Activity of Cationic Polymers against Mycobacteria: Toward Antitubercular Macromolecules

Daniel J. Phillips, James Harrison, Sarah-Jane Richards, Daniel E. Mitchell, Esther Tichauer, Alasdair T. M. Hubbard, Collette Guy, Ian Hands-Portman, Elizabeth Fullam, Matthew I. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antimicrobial resistance is a global healthcare problem with a dwindling arsenal of usable drugs. Tuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, requires long-term combination therapy and multi- and totally drug resistant strains have emerged. This study reports the antibacterial activity of cationic polymers against mycobacteria, which are distinguished from other Gram-positive bacteria by their unique cell wall comprising a covalently linked mycolic acid–arabinogalactan–peptidoglycan complex (mAGP), interspersed with additional complex lipids which helps them persist in their host. The present study finds that poly(dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate) has particularly potent antimycobacterial activity and high selectivity over two Gram-negative strains. Removal of the backbone methyl group (poly(dimethylaminoethyl acrylate)) decreased antimycobacterial activity, and poly(aminoethyl methacrylate) also had no activity against mycobacteria. Hemolysis assays revealed poly(dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate) did not disrupt red blood cell membranes. Interestingly, poly(dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate) was not found to permeabilize mycobacterial membranes, as judged by dye exclusion assays, suggesting the mode of action is not simple membrane disruption, supported by electron microscopy analysis. These results demonstrate that synthetic polycations, with the correctly tuned structure are useful tools against mycobacterial infections, for which new drugs are urgently required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1592–1599
Number of pages8
Issue number5
Early online date6 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2017


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