Silver nanoparticles: Antimicrobial activity, cytotoxicity, and synergism with N-acetyl cysteine

J Basic Microbiol. 2017 Aug;57(8):659-668. doi: 10.1002/jobm.201700087. Epub 2017 May 22.


The fast progression of nanotechnology has led to novel therapeutic interventions. Antimicrobial activities of silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) were tested against standard ATCC strains of Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC 9144), Escherichia coli (O157:H7), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (ATCC 27853), and Candida albicans (ATCC 90028) in addition to 60 clinical isolates collected from cancer patients. Antimicrobial activity was tested by disk diffusion method and MIC values for Ag NPs alone and in combination with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) against tested pathogens were determined by broth microdilution method. Ag NPs showed a robust antimicrobial activity against all tested pathogens and NAC substantially enhanced the antimicrobial activity of Ag NPs against all tested pathogens. Synergism between Ag NPs and NAC has been confirmed by checkerboard assay. The effect of Ag NPs on tested pathogens was further scrutinized by Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) which showed disruption of cell wall in both bacteria and fungi. Ag NPs abrogated the activity of respiratory chain dehydrogenase of all tested pathogens and released muramic acid content from S. aureus in culture. The cytotoxic effect of Ag NPs alone and in combination with NAC was examined using human HepG2 cells and this revealed no cytotoxicity at MIC values of Ag NPs and interestingly, NAC reduced the cytotoxic effect of Ag NPs at concentrations higher than their MIC values. Taken together, Ag NPs have robust antimicrobial activity and NAC substantially enhances their antimicrobial activities against MDR pathogens which would provide a novel safe, effective, and inexpensive therapeutic approach to control the prevalence of MDR pathogens.

Keywords: MDR; N-acetylcysteine; bacteria; fungi; nanoparticles; synergism.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Candida albicans / drug effects
  • Candida albicans / ultrastructure
  • Cell Line
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Drug Resistance, Fungal
  • Drug Synergism
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects
  • Escherichia coli / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Metal Nanoparticles* / chemistry
  • Metal Nanoparticles* / toxicity
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Muramic Acids / metabolism
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / ultrastructure
  • Silver / metabolism
  • Silver / pharmacology*
  • Silver / toxicity
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / ultrastructure


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Muramic Acids
  • Silver
  • Oxidoreductases
  • Acetylcysteine