Antibacterial low molecular weight cationic polymers: Dissecting the contribution of hydrophobicity, chain length and charge to activity

James Lynden Grace, Johnny X Huang, S.-E. Cheah, Nghia Truong Phuoc, Matthew A Cooper, Jian Li, T.P. Davis, J.F. Quinn, T. Velkov, M.R. Whittaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


The balance of cationicity and hydrophobicity can profoundly affect the performance of antimicrobial polymers. To this end a library of 24 cationic polymers with uniquely low degrees of polymerization was synthesized via Cu(0)-mediated polymerization, using three different cationic monomers and two initiators: providing two different hydrocarbon chain tail lengths (C2 and C12). The polymers exhibited structure-dependent antibacterial activity when tested against a selection of bacteria, viz., Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 29213, Klebsiella pneumoniae ATCC 13883, Acinetobacter baumannii ATCC 19606, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa ATCC 27853 as a representative palette of Gram-positive and Gram-negative ESKAPE pathogens. The five best-performing polymers were identified for additional testing against the polymyxin-resistant A. baumannii ATCC 19606R strain. Polymers having the lowest DP and a C12 hydrophobic tail were shown to provide the broadest antimicrobial activity against the bacteria panel studied as evidenced by lower minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs). An optimal polymer composition was identified, and its mechanism of action investigated via membrane permeability testing against Escherichia coli. Membrane disruption was identified as the most probable mechanism for bacteria cell killing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15469-15477
Number of pages9
JournalRSC Advances
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Cite this