Antimicrobial properties of porphyrins

Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2001 Feb;10(2):309-20. doi: 10.1517/13543784.10.2.309.


A large number of natural and synthetic porphyrins of diverse chemical compositions and characteristics can be isolated from nature or synthesised in the laboratory. Antimicrobial and antiviral activities of porphyrins are based on their ability to catalyse peroxidase and oxidase reactions, absorb photons and generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) and partition into lipids of bacterial membranes. Light-dependent, photodynamic activity of natural and synthetic porphyrins and pthalocyanines against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria has been well demonstrated. Some non-iron metalloporphyrins (MPs) possess a powerful light-independent antimicrobial activity that is based on the ability of these compounds to increase the sensitivity of bacteria to ROS or directly produce ROS. MPs mimic haem in their molecular structure and are actively accumulated by bacteria via high affinity haem-uptake systems. The same uptake systems can be used to deliver antibiotic-porphyrin and antibacterial peptide-porphyrin conjugates. Haemin, the most well known natural porphyrin, possesses a significant antibacterial activity that is augmented by the presence of physiological concentrations of hydrogen peroxide or a reducing agent. Natural and synthetic porphyrins have relatively low toxicity in vitro and in vivo. The ability for numerous chemical modifications and the large number of different mechanisms by which porphyrins affect microbial and viral pathogens place porphyrins into a group of compounds with an outstanding potential for discovery of novel agents, procedures and materials active against pathogenic microorganisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Transport, Active
  • Hemin / pharmacology
  • Light
  • Metalloporphyrins / pharmacology
  • Porphyrins / pharmacokinetics
  • Porphyrins / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Metalloporphyrins
  • Porphyrins
  • Hemin