Exposure to a manuka honey wound gel is associated with changes in bacterial virulence and antimicrobial susceptibility

Jawahir Mokhtar, Andrew Mcbain, Ruth Ledder, Reem Binsuwaidan, Victoria Rimmer, Gavin Humphreys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of manuka honey for the topical treatment of wounds has increased worldwide owing to its broad spectrum of activity towards bacteria in both planktonic and biofilm growth modes. Despite this, the potential consequences of bacterial exposure to manuka honey, as may occur during the treatment of chronic wounds, are not fully understood. Here, we describe changes in antimicrobial susceptibility and virulence in a panel of bacteria, including wound isolates, following repeated exposure (ten passages) to sub-inhibitory concentrations of a manuka honey based wound gel. Changes in antibiotic sensitivity above 4-fold were predominantly related to increased vancomycin sensitivity in the staphylococci. Interestingly, Staphylococcus epidermidis displayed phenotypic resistance to erythromycin following passaging, with susceptibility profiles returning to baseline in the absence of further honey exposure. Changes in susceptibility to the tested wound gel were moderate (≤ 1-fold) when compared to the respective parent strain. In sessile communities, increased biofilm eradication concentrations over 4-fold occurred in a wound isolate of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (WIBG 2.2) as evidenced by a 7-fold reduction in gentamicin sensitivity following passaging. With regards to pathogenesis, 4/8 bacteria exhibited enhanced virulence following honey wound gel exposure. In the pseudomonads and S. epidermidis, this occurred in conjunction with increased haemolysis and biofilm formation, whilst P. aeruginosa also exhibited increased pyocyanin production. Where virulence attenuation was noted in a passaged wound isolate of S. aureus (WIBG 1.6), this was concomitant to delayed coagulation and reduced haemolytic potential. Overall, passaging in the presence of a manuka honey wound gel led to changes in antimicrobial sensitivity and virulence that varied between test bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2020


  • manuka honey
  • chronic wounds
  • MIC
  • biofilm
  • antimicrobials


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