Structure–function relationships of the antibacterial activity of phenolic acids and their metabolism by lactic acid bacteria


Michael Gänzle, Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, 4-10 Ag/For Centre, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2P5. E-mail:


Aims:  To determine structure–function relationships of antibacterial phenolic acids and their metabolites produced by lactic acid bacteria (LAB).

Methods and Results:  Minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) of 6 hydroxybenzoic and 6 hydroxycinnamic acids were determined with Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus hammesii, Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis as indicator strains. The antibacterial activity of phenolic acids increased at lower pH. A decreasing number of hydroxyl groups enhanced the activity of hydroxybenzoic acids, but had minor effects on hydroxycinnamic acids. Substitution of hydroxyl groups with methoxy groups increased the activity of hydroxybenzoic, but not of hydroxycinnamic, acid.

Metabolism of chlorogenic, caffeic, p-coumaric, ferulic, protocatechuic or p-hydroxybenzoic acids by L.  plantarum, L. hammesii, Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus reuteri was analysed by LC-DAD-MS. Furthermore, MICs of substrates and metabolites were compared. Decarboxylated and/or reduced metabolites of phenolic acids had a lower activity than the substrates. Strain-specific metabolism of phenolic acids generally corresponded to resistance.

Conclusions:  The influence of lipophilicity on the antibacterial activity of hydroxybenzoic acids is stronger than that of hydroxycinnamic acids. Metabolism of phenolic acids by LAB detoxifies phenolic acids.

Significance and Impact of the Study:  Results allow the targeted selection of plant extracts for food preservation, and selection of starter cultures for fermented products.