Various modes of action of dietary phytochemicals, sulforaphane and phenethyl isothiocyanate, on pathogenic bacteria

Sci Rep. 2019 Sep 23;9(1):13677. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-50216-x.


Isothiocyanates (ITCs) derived from cruciferous plants reveal antibacterial activity, although detailed mechanism is not fully elucidated. Recently it has been reported that ITCs induce the stringent response in Escherichia coli strains. The aim of this work was to determine whether two isothiocyanates, sulforaphane (SFN) and phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), similarly as in E. coli induce stringent response in Bacillus subtilis, model Gram(+) bacterium, and test their potency against a panel of clinical isolates belonging to Gram(+) or Gram(-) groups. Minimal inhibitory concentrations were determined as well as effect of ITCs on membranes integrity, synthesis of DNA, RNA and stringent response alarmones was assessed. SFN and PEITC are effective against B. subtilis and bacterial isolates, namely E. coli, K. pneumonia, S. aureus, S. epidermidis and E. faecalis. Interestingly, in B. subtilis and E. faecalis the inhibition of growth and nucleic acids synthesis is independent of ppGpp accumulation. In bacteria, which do not induce the stringent response in the presence of ITCs, membrane integrity disruption is observed. Thus, ITCs are effective against different pathogenic bacteria and act by at least two mechanisms depending on bacteria species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / drug effects*
  • Escherichia coli / drug effects*
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae / drug effects
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects


  • Isothiocyanates
  • Phytochemicals
  • phenethyl isothiocyanate
  • sulforaphane