Anthocyanins as antimicrobial agents of natural plant origin

Nat Prod Commun. 2011 Jan;6(1):149-56.


Anthocyanins are particularly abundant in different fruits, especially in berries. The beneficial effects of these compounds for human health have been known from at least the 16th century. Despite the great number of papers devoted to the different biological effects exerted by anthocyanins only a limited number of studies is focused on the antimicrobial activity of these compounds. Anthocyanin content of berry fruits varies from 7.5 mg/100 mg fresh fruit in redcurrant (Ribes rubum) up to 460 mg/100 g fresh fruit in chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). After consumption, anthocyanins are intensively metabolized, mainly in the intestines and liver. Glucorination, methylation and sulfation are the most typical metabolic reactions. Antimicrobial activity of crude extracts of plant phenolic compounds against human pathogens has been intensively studied to characterize and develop new healthy food ingredients as well as medical and pharmaceutical products. However, there is very little information available about the antimicrobial activity of the pure anthocyanins. In the last part of this review we present the collection of papers describing the anthocyanin profiles of different fruits (mainly berries) and the antimicrobial properties of the identified compounds. Generally, anthocyanins are active against different microbes, however Gram-positive bacteria usually are more susceptible to the anthocyanin action than Gram-negative ones. Mechanisms underlying anthocyanin activity include both membrane and intracellular interactions of these compounds. Antimicrobial activity of berries and other anthocyanin-containing fruits is likely to be caused by multiple mechanisms and synergies because they contain various compounds including anthocyanins, weak organic acids, phenolic acids, and their mixtures of different chemical forms. Therefore, the antimicrobial effect of chemically complex compounds has to be critically analyzed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthocyanins / chemistry
  • Anthocyanins / metabolism
  • Anthocyanins / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Fruit / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology


  • Anthocyanins
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Plant Extracts