Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

The antimicrobial polymer PHMB enters cells and selectively condenses bacterial chromosomes

Lookup NU author(s): Alexander McFarlane, Dr James StachORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


To combat infection and antimicrobial resistance, it is helpful to elucidate drug mechanism(s) of action. Here we examined how the widely used antimicrobial polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB) kills bacteria selectively over host cells. Contrary to the accepted model of microbial membrane disruption by PHMB, we observed cell entry into a range of bacterial species, and treated bacteria displayed cell division arrest and chromosome condensation, suggesting DNA binding as an alternative antimicrobial mechanism. A DNA-level mechanism was confirmed by observations that PHMB formed nanoparticles when mixed with isolated bacterial chromosomal DNA and its effects on growth were suppressed by pairwise combination with the DNA binding ligand Hoechst 33258. PHMB also entered mammalian cells, but was trapped within endosomes and excluded from nuclei. Therefore, PHMB displays differential access to bacterial and mammalian cellular DNA and selectively binds and condenses bacterial chromosomes. Because acquired resistance to PHMB has not been reported, selective chromosome condensation provides an unanticipated paradigm for antimicrobial action that may not succumb to resistance.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Chindera K, Mahalo M, Sharma A, Horsley H, Kloc-Muniak K, Kamaruzzamabn N, Kumar S, McFarlane A, Stach J, Bentin T, Good L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature Scientific Reports

Year: 2016

Volume: 6

Online publication date: 21/03/2016

Acceptance date: 29/02/2016

Date deposited: 12/04/2016

ISSN (electronic): 2045-2322

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/srep23121


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name
130862Technology Strategy Board, UK
BSC0120Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India
INCS-2009-133Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, UK
KPT, BS, 851209035040Ministry of Education of Malaysia