Phenolic acids (benzoic, phenylacetic and phenylpropionic acids) are the most abundant phenolic structures found in fecal water. As an approach towards the exploration of their action in the gut, this paper reports the antimicrobial activity of thirteen phenolic acids towards Escherichia coli, Lactobacillus spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans. The growth of E. coli ATCC 25922 was inhibited by only four of the phenolic acids tested at a concentration of 1000 microg/mL, whereas pathogenic E. coli O157:H7 (CECT 5947) was susceptible to ten of them. The genetically manipulated E. coli lpxC/tolC strain was highly susceptible to phenolic acids. The growth of lactobacilli (Lactobacillus paraplantarum LCH7, Lactobacillus plantarum LCH17, Lactobacillus fermentum LPH1, L. fermentum CECT 5716, Lactobacillus brevis LCH23, and Lactobacillus coryniformis CECT 5711) and pathogens (S. aureus EP167 and C. albicans MY1055) was also inhibited by phenolic acids, but to varying extents. Only P. aeruginosa PAO1 was not susceptible to any of the phenolic compounds tested. Structure-activity relationships of phenolic acids and some of their diet precursors [(+)-catechin and (-)-epicatechin] were established, based on multivariate analysis of microbial activities. The antimicrobial properties of phenolic acids reported in this paper might be relevant in vivo.
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