Antimicrobial polycarbonates: Investigating the impact of balancing charge and hydrophobicity using a same-centered polymer approach

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Biodegradable antimicrobial polymers are a promising solution for combating drug resistant microbes. When designing these materials, the balance between charge and hydrophobicity significantly affects the antimicrobial activity and selectivity toward microbes over mammalian cells. Furthermore, where the charge and hydrophobicity is located on the molecules has also proven to be significant. A series of antimicrobial homopolymer polycarbonates were synthesized, where the hydrophobic/hydrophilic balance was controlled by varying the spacer between the charged quaternary ammonium moiety and the polymer backbone (a "same-centered" structure where the hydrophobic moiety is directly attached to the charged moiety). These homopolymers were active against all microbes tested but depending on the spacer length some hemolytic activity was observed. To reduce the polymer hemolytic activity we systematically varied the polymer composition by copolymerizing the different monomers used in the "same center" homopolymers. By maintaining charge on each repeat unit but copolymerizing monomers having varied hydrophobic side chain lengths, polymers with high activity and selectivity were achieved. In addition, these macromolecules act via a membrane disruption mechanism, making them less likely to induce resistance. © 2013 American Chemical Society.