Candida albicans adhesion to human epithelial cells and polystyrene and formation of biofilm is reduced by sub-inhibitory Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil

Med Mycol. 2012 Nov;50(8):863-70. doi: 10.3109/13693786.2012.683540. Epub 2012 May 15.


This study investigated the effects of the volatile terpene-rich oil from Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil) on the formation of biofilms and the adhesion of C. albicans cells to both biotic and abiotic surfaces. Biofilm formation on polystyrene was significantly inhibited for 70% of the isolates at the lowest test concentration of 0.016% of tea tree oil (TTO) when quantified by XTT and 40% of isolates when measured by crystal violet staining. Adhesion to polystyrene, quantified by crystal violet staining, was significantly reduced for 3 isolates at 0.031%, 6 isolates at 0.062% and 0.125% and for all 7 isolates at 0.25% TTO. Reductions in adhesion were not due to loss of viability (at concentrations of ≤ 0.125%) or interactions between the TTO and polystyrene. Similarly, adhesion to buccal epithelial and HeLa cells was also significantly reduced in the presence of 0.016-0.062% TTO. Treatment with 0.125% TTO, but not 0.062%, decreased the cell surface hydrophobicity of C. albicans, indicating one potential mechanism by which adhesion may be reduced. These data demonstrate that sub-inhibitory TTO reduces the adhesion of C. albicans to both human cells and polystyrene, inhibits biofilm formation and decreases cell surface hydrophobicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antifungal Agents / isolation & purification
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Candida albicans / drug effects*
  • Candida albicans / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Gentian Violet / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Melaleuca / chemistry*
  • Oils, Volatile / isolation & purification
  • Oils, Volatile / pharmacology*
  • Polystyrenes
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Tetrazolium Salts / metabolism


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Polystyrenes
  • Tetrazolium Salts
  • 2,3-bis(2-methoxy-4-nitro-5-sulfophenyl)-5-((phenylamino)carbonyl)-2H-tetrazolium hydroxide
  • Gentian Violet