Objectives: The essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) and its components have antimicrobial activity against a wide range of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, fungi and viruses. The mechanism(s) by which Pseudomonas aeruginosa NCTC 10662 maintains a decreased susceptibility to tea tree oil and components was investigated.
Results: Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid enhanced the antimicrobial activity of tea tree oil and terpinen-4-ol against stationary phase P. aeruginosa while polymyxin B nonapeptide enhanced the activity of tea tree oil and gamma-terpinene. Pre-treatment with the protonophore carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone increased the susceptibility of exponential phase cells to sub-inhibitory concentrations of tea tree oil, terpinen-4-ol and gamma-terpinene, indicating that intrinsic tolerance to tea tree oil and components is substantially energy dependent.
Conclusions: Increased tolerance to tea tree oil in P. aeruginosa is directly related to the barrier and energy functions of the outer membrane, and may involve efflux systems.