Antifungal Activity of Melaleuca alternifolia Essential Oil (TTO) and Its Synergy with Itraconazole or Ketoconazole against Trichophyton rubrum

Molecules. 2021 Jan 17;26(2):461. doi: 10.3390/molecules26020461.


Over the past 20-30 years, Trichophyton rubrum represented the most widespread dermatophyte with a prevalence accounting for 70% of dermatophytosis. The treatment for cutaneous infections caused by Trichophyton spp. are imidazoles (ketoconazole (KTZ)) and triazoles (itraconazole (ITZ)). T. rubrum can develop resistance to azoles after prolonged exposure to subinhibitory concentrations resulting in therapeutic failures and chronic infections. These problems have stimulated the search for therapeutic alternatives, including essential oils, and their potential use in combination with conventional antifungals. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the antifungal activity of tea tree oil (TTO) (Melaleuca alternifolia essential oil) and the main components against T. rubrum and to assess whether TTO in association with KTZ/ITZ as reference drugs improves the antifungal activity of these drugs. We used a terpinen-4-ol chemotype (35.88%) TTO, and its antifungal properties were evaluated by minimum inhibitory and minimum fungicidal concentrations in accordance with the CLSI guidelines. The interaction between TTO and azoles was evaluated through the checkerboard and isobologram methods. The results demonstrated both the fungicide activity of TTO on T. rubrum and the synergism when it was used in combination with azoles. Therefore, this mixture may reduce the minimum effective dose of azole required and minimize the side effects of the therapy. Synergy activity offered a promise for combination topical treatment for superficial mycoses.

Keywords: Melaleuca alternifolia; Trichophyton rubrum; azoles; checkerboard; essential oils; synergism; tea tree oil.

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents* / chemistry
  • Antifungal Agents* / pharmacology
  • Arthrodermataceae / growth & development*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Itraconazole* / agonists
  • Itraconazole* / chemistry
  • Itraconazole* / pharmacology
  • Ketoconazole* / agonists
  • Ketoconazole* / chemistry
  • Ketoconazole* / pharmacology
  • Melaleuca / chemistry*
  • Tea Tree Oil* / chemistry
  • Tea Tree Oil* / pharmacology


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Itraconazole
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Ketoconazole

Supplementary concepts

  • Trichophyton rubrum