Short- and medium-chain fatty acids exhibit antimicrobial activity for oral microorganisms

Arch Oral Biol. 2011 Jul;56(7):650-4. doi: 10.1016/j.archoralbio.2011.01.011. Epub 2011 Feb 17.


Objectives: This study assessed the antibacterial activity of short-, medium-, and long-chain fatty acids against various oral microorganisms.

Methods: The short-chain fatty acids [formic acid (C1), acetic acid (C2), propionic acid (C3), butyric acid (C4), isobutyric acid (C4), isovaleric acid (C5), hexanoic acid (C6)], medium-chain fatty acids [octanoic acid (C8), capric acid (C10), lauric acid (12)], and long-chain fatty acids [myristic acid (C14), palmitic acid (C16)], were investigated for antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus gordonii, Streptococcus sanguis, Candida albicans, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Fusobacterium nucleatum, and Porphyromonas gingivalis.

Results: The data demonstrated that the fatty acids exhibited patterns of inhibition against oral bacteria with some specificity that appeared related more to the bacterial species that the general structural characteristics of the microorganism. As a group the fatty acids were much less effective against C. albicans than the oral bacteria, with effectiveness limited to hexanoic, octanoic, and lauric acids. Formic acid, capric, and lauric acids were broadly inhibitory for the bacteria. Interestingly, fatty acids that are produced at metabolic end-products by a number of these bacteria, were specifically inactive against the producing species, whilst substantially inhibiting the growth of other oral microorganisms.

Conclusions: The results indicate that the antimicrobial activity of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) could influence the microbial ecology in the oral cavity via at least 2 potential pathways. First, the agents delivered exogenously as therapeutic adjuncts could be packaged to enhance a microbial-regulatory environment in the subgingival sulcus. Second, it would be the intrinsic nature of these fatty acid inhibitors in contributing to the characteristics of the microbial biofilms, their evolution, and emergence of species within the biofilms. Further studies on these functions are required to better understand the nature of these potential microbial interactions in the biofilms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetic Acid / pharmacology
  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / drug effects
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Butyric Acid / pharmacology
  • Candida albicans / drug effects
  • Caproates / pharmacology
  • Caprylates / pharmacology
  • Decanoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Formates / pharmacology
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum / drug effects
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Humans
  • Isobutyrates / pharmacology
  • Lauric Acids / pharmacology
  • Materials Testing
  • Microbial Interactions / drug effects
  • Mouth / microbiology*
  • Myristic Acid / pharmacology
  • Palmitic Acid / pharmacology
  • Pentanoic Acids / pharmacology
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis / drug effects
  • Propionates / pharmacology
  • Streptococcus gordonii / drug effects
  • Streptococcus mutans / drug effects
  • Streptococcus sanguis / drug effects


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Caproates
  • Caprylates
  • Decanoic Acids
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Formates
  • Hemiterpenes
  • Isobutyrates
  • Lauric Acids
  • Pentanoic Acids
  • Propionates
  • Myristic Acid
  • formic acid
  • Butyric Acid
  • lauric acid
  • isovaleric acid
  • hexanoic acid
  • Palmitic Acid
  • decanoic acid
  • isobutyric acid
  • propionic acid
  • octanoic acid
  • Acetic Acid