Antimicrobial and cell-compatible surface-attached polymer networks – how the correlation of chemical structure to physical and biological data leads to a modified mechanism of action†
We present a synthetic platform based on photo-induced thiol–ene chemistry, by which surface-attached networks from antimicrobial poly(oxonorbornene) (so-called polymeric synthetic mimics of antimicrobial peptides, SMAMPs) could be easily obtained. By systematically varying hydrophobicity and charge density, surface-attached polymer networks with high antimicrobial activity and excellent cell compatibility were obtained. For the homopolymer networks with constant charge density, antimicrobial activity increased systematically with increasing hydrophobicity (i.e. decreasing swellability and apparent surface energy). Irrespective of charge density, the antimicrobial activity of all networks correlated with the acid constant pK and the isoelectric point (IEP) – the lower pK and IEP, the higher the antimicrobial activity. The cell compatibility of the networks increased with increasing swellability and apparent surface energy, and decreased with increasing charge density. The data corroborates that the mechanism of action of antimicrobial polymer surfaces depends on at least two mechanistic steps, one of which is hydrophobicity-driven and the other charge related. Therefore, we suggest a modified mechanistic model with a charge-driven and a hydrophobicity-driven step. For antimicrobial networks that only varied in hydrophobicity, the antimicrobial activities on surfaces and in solution also correlated – the higher the activity in solution, the higher the activity on surfaces. Thus, the hydrophobicity-driven step for activity on surfaces may be similar to the one in solution. Cell compatibility of SMAMPs in solution and on surfaces also showed a systematic positive correlation for all polymers, therefore this property also depends on the net hydrophobic balance of the polymer.