Cationic antimicrobial polymers and their assemblies

Int J Mol Sci. 2013 May 10;14(5):9906-46. doi: 10.3390/ijms14059906.


Cationic compounds are promising candidates for development of antimicrobial agents. Positive charges attached to surfaces, particles, polymers, peptides or bilayers have been used as antimicrobial agents by themselves or in sophisticated formulations. The main positively charged moieties in these natural or synthetic structures are quaternary ammonium groups, resulting in quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs). The advantage of amphiphilic cationic polymers when compared to small amphiphilic molecules is their enhanced microbicidal activity. Besides, many of these polymeric structures also show low toxicity to human cells; a major requirement for biomedical applications. Determination of the specific elements in polymers, which affect their antimicrobial activity, has been previously difficult due to broad molecular weight distributions and random sequences characteristic of radical polymerization. With the advances in polymerization control, selection of well defined polymers and structures are allowing greater insight into their structure-antimicrobial activity relationship. On the other hand, antimicrobial polymers grafted or self-assembled to inert or non inert vehicles can yield hybrid antimicrobial nanostructures or films, which can act as antimicrobials by themselves or deliver bioactive molecules for a variety of applications, such as wound dressing, photodynamic antimicrobial therapy, food packing and preservation and antifouling applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy
  • Cations / chemistry
  • Cations / pharmacology
  • Fungi / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Lipids / chemistry
  • Lipids / pharmacology
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Mycoses / drug therapy
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Polymers / pharmacology*
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry
  • Surface-Active Agents / pharmacology


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Cations
  • Lipids
  • Polymers
  • Surface-Active Agents