Prenylated phenolic compounds, i.e. those bearing a C5-isoprenoid (prenyl) substituent, are abundant in plants from the Fabaceae (legume) family and are potential natural antibacterial agents against resistant pathogenic bacteria. To understand the antibacterial properties of these compounds, (quantitative) structure-activity relationships and mode of action of these molecules were investigated against Gram positive and negative bacteria.
Compounds belonging to the flavonoid, isoflavonoid and stilbenoid classes were studied. Antibacterial activity was modulated by the (sub)class of phenolic compound, as well as by the configuration, position and number of prenyl groups. Prenylated isoflavones were found to be better antibacterials than prenylated pterocarpans and prenylated stilbenoids. It was also shown that chain prenylation increased the antibacterial activity more than pyran-ring prenylation. Diprenylated compounds were among the most active antibacterials with minimum inhibitory concentrations of less than 10 µg/mL against Listeria monocytogenes. The main molecular characteristics defining antibacterial activity were molecular shape (including flexibility and globularity) and hydrophobicity. Regarding the mode of action of these compounds, it was shown that prenylated phenolic compounds can disrupt the integrity of the membrane by permeabilization very quickly. Interestingly, some good antibacterial prenylated (iso)flavonoids showed good permeabilization capacity whereas others not (including diprenylated molecules), highlighting potential differences in their interactions with the bacterial membrane. Likewise, it was shown that Gram negative intrinsic resistance towards prenylated phenolic compounds is primarily due to the activity of efflux pump systems and that it can be overcome by using an efflux pump inhibitor in combination with antibacterial prenylated compounds. Last, in vitro production of prenylated phenolic compounds was performed with microbial prenyltransferase SrCloQ and novel C- and O-prenylated compounds were produced.