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Vol. 22 (2), 2015, Pages: 245–255

Pharmacological synergism of bee venom and melittin with antibiotics and plant secondary metabolites against multi-drug resistant microbial pathogens

Issam AL-Ani, Stefan Zimmermann, Jürgen Reichling, Michael Wink

Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, Heidelberg University, INF 364 Heidelberg, Germany.


The goal of this study was to investigate the antimicrobial activity of bee venom and its main component, melittin, alone or in two-drug and three-drug combinations with antibiotics (vancomycin, oxacillin, and amikacin) or antimicrobial plant secondary metabolites (carvacrol, benzyl isothiocyanate, the alkaloids sanguinarine and berberine) against drug-sensitive and antibiotic-resistant microbial pathogens. The secondary metabolites were selected corresponding to the molecular targets to which they are directed, being different from those of melittin and the antibiotics.

The minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) and minimal bactericidal concentration (MBC) were evaluated by the standard broth microdilution method, while synergistic or additive interactions were assessed by checkerboard dilution and time-kill curve assays. Bee venom and melittin exhibited a broad spectrum of antibacterial activity against 51 strains of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria with strong anti-MRSA and anti-VRE activity (MIC values between 6 and 800 µg/ml). Moreover, bee venom and melittin showed significant antifungal activity (MIC values between 30 and 100 µg/ml). Carvacrol displayed bactericidal activity, while BITC exhibited bacteriostatic activity against all MRSA and VRE strains tested (reference strains and clinical isolates), both compounds showed a remarkable fungicidal activity with minimum fungicidal concentration (MFC) values between 30 and 200 µg/ml. The DNA intercalating alkaloid sanguinarine showed bactericidal activity against MRSA NCTC 10442 (MBC 20 µg/ml), while berberine exhibited bacteriostatic activity against MRSA NCTC 10442 (MIC 40 µg/ml).

Checkerboard dilution tests mostly revealed synergism of two-drug combinations against all the tested microorganisms with FIC indexes between 0.24 and 0.50, except for rapidly growing mycobacteria in which combinations exerted an additive effect (FICI = 0.75–1). In time-kill assays all three-drug combinations exhibited a powerful bactericidal synergistic effect against MRSA NCTC 10442, VRE ATCC 51299, and E. coli ATCC 25922 with a reduction of more than 3log10 in the colony count after 24 h. Our findings suggest that bee venom and melittin synergistically enhanced the bactericidal effect of several antimicrobial agents when applied in combination especially when the drugs affect several and differing molecular targets. These results could lead to the development of novel or complementary antibacterial drugs against MDR pathogens.

Keywords: Bee venom; Melittin; Carvacrol; Benzyl isothiocyanate; Sanguinarine; Berberine.

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