Antimicrobial and cytotoxic activity of red propolis: an alert for its safe use

J Appl Microbiol. 2015 Sep;119(3):677-87. doi: 10.1111/jam.12874. Epub 2015 Aug 2.


Aims: Red propolis is a resinous product popularly consumed in Brazil as it improves health, and it is considered a nutraceutical. The objective of this study was to test the antimicrobial activity of eight samples of red propolis from Brazil and Cuba to assess the possibility of application of this natural product as an antimicrobial agent, along with a study of its cytotoxic activity against non-tumor cell lines to evaluate at which concentrations it could be safely used.

Methods and results: The chemical profile of the samples was evaluated by UHPLC-MS. All the samples presented antimicrobial activity which was tested using agar diffusion and serial dilution methods; and these samples displayed a better activity against most Gram-negative bacteria with minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) in the range between 6·25 μg ml(-1) and 500 μg ml(-1). However our studies also revealed an inherent cytotoxic effect against HaCaT human keratinocytes and BALBc 3T3.

Conclusions: To have a noncytotoxic and safe use of red propolis, it is necessary to use a concentration below the IC50 cytotoxic values.

Significance and impact of the study: The traditional use of propolis does not necessarily guarantee its safety. The evaluation of the safety of bioactive natural products should always be considered together with the evaluation of the activity.

Keywords: UHPLC-MS; antimicrobial activity; bioactive natural products; cytotoxicity; red propolis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / toxicity
  • BALB 3T3 Cells
  • Brazil
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Propolis / chemistry
  • Propolis / pharmacology*
  • Propolis / toxicity*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Propolis