Multivalent Antimicrobial Polymer Nanoparticles Target Mycobacteria and Gram-Negative Bacteria by Distinct Mechanisms

Sarah-Jane Richards, Klea Isufi, Laura E. Wilkins, Julia Lipecki, Elizabeth Fullam, Matthew I. Gibson

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Because of the emergence of antimicrobial resistance to traditional small-molecule drugs, cationic antimicrobial polymers are appealing targets. Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a particular problem, with multi- and total drug resistance spreading and more than a billion latent infections globally. This study reports nanoparticles bearing variable densities of poly(dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate) and the unexpected and distinct mechanisms of action this multivalent presentation imparts against Escherichia coli versus Mycobacterium smegmatis (model of M. tuberculosis), leading to killing or growth inhibition, respectively. A convergent “grafting to” synthetic strategy was used to assemble a 50-member nanoparticle library, and using a high-throughput screen identified that only the smallest (2 nm) particles were stable in both saline and complex cell media. Compared with the linear polymers, the nanoparticles displayed two- and eight-fold enhancements in antimicrobial activity against M. smegmatis and E. coli, respectively. Mechanistic studies demonstrated that the antimicrobial particles were bactericidal against E. coli due to rapid disruption of the cell membranes. Conversely, against M. smegmatis the particles did not lyse the cell membrane but rather had a bacteriostatic effect. These results demonstrate that to develop new polymeric antituberculars the widely assumed, broad spectrum, membrane-disrupting mechanism of polycations must be re-evaluated. It is clear that synthetic nanomaterials can engage in more complex interactions with mycobacteria, which we hypothesize is due to the unique cell envelope at the surface of these bacteria.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256–264
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Early online date15 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2018


  • bacteria
  • metal nanoparticles
  • nanoparticles
  • polymer particles
  • polymers


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