Isothiocyanates: An Overview of Their Antimicrobial Activity against Human Infections

Molecules. 2018 Mar 9;23(3):624. doi: 10.3390/molecules23030624.


The use of plant-derived products as antimicrobial agents has been investigated in depth. Isothiocyanates (ITCs) are bioactive products resulting from enzymatic hydrolysis of glucosinolates (GLs), the most abundant secondary metabolites in the botanical order Brassicales. Although the antimicrobial activity of ITCs against foodborne and plant pathogens has been well documented, little is known about their antimicrobial properties against human pathogens. This review collects studies that focus on this topic. Particular focus will be put on ITCs' antimicrobial properties and their mechanism of action against human pathogens for which the current therapeutic solutions are deficient and therefore of prime importance for public health. Our purpose was the evaluation of the potential use of ITCs to replace or support the common antibiotics. Even though ITCs appear to be effective against the most important human pathogens, including bacteria with resistant phenotypes, the majority of the studies did not show comparable results and thus it is very difficult to compare the antimicrobial activity of the different ITCs. For this reason, a standard method should be used and further studies are needed.

Keywords: allyl isothiocyanate (AITC); antibiotics; benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC); isothiocyanates (ITCs); microbial infection; moringin (MGN); phenyl ethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC); phenyl isothiocyanate (PITC); sulforaphane (SFN).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biological Products / chemistry
  • Biological Products / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Infections / drug therapy
  • Infections / etiology
  • Infections / metabolism
  • Isothiocyanates / chemistry*
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Isothiocyanates / therapeutic use
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Biological Products
  • Isothiocyanates