In this report, we demonstrate the pH-dependent, in vitro antimicrobial activity of a cationic, amphiphilic random copolymer against clinical isolates of drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The polymer was developed toward a long-term goal of potential utility in the treatment of skin infections. The proposed mechanism of action of the polymer is through selectively binding to bacterial membranes and subsequent disruption of the membrane structure/integrity, ultimately resulting in bacterial cell death. The polymer showed bactericidal activity against clinical isolates of methicillin-resistant or vancomycin-intermediate S. aureus. The polymer was effective in killing S. aureus at neutral pH, but inactive under acidic conditions (pH 5.5). The polymer did not exhibit any significant hemolytic activity against human red blood cells or display cytotoxicity to human dermal fibroblasts over a range of pH values (5.5-7.4). These results indicate that the polymer activity was selective against bacteria over human cells. Using this polymer, we propose a new potential strategy for treatment of skin infections using the pH-sensitive antimicrobial polymer agent that would selectively target infections at pH-neutral wound sites, but not the acidic, healthy skin.
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