Planta Med 2020; 86(08): 520-537
DOI: 10.1055/a-1147-4671
Biological and Pharmacological Activity
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Anti-biofilm and Virulence Factor-Reducing Activities of Essential Oils and Oil Components as a Possible Option for Bacterial Infection Control

Jürgen Reichling
Formerly at the Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

received 20 February 2020
revised 25 March 2020

accepted 26 March 2020

Publication Date:
23 April 2020 (online)


Pathogenic biofilm-associated bacteria that adhere to biological or nonbiological surfaces are a big challenge to the healthcare and food industries. Antibiotics or disinfectants often fail in an attempt to eliminate biofilms from those surfaces. Based on selected experimental research, this review deals with the potential biofilm-inhibiting, virulence factor-reducing, and biofilm-eradicating activities of essential oils and single essential oil compounds using Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Chromobacterium violaceum as model organisms. In addition, for the bacteria reviewed in this overview, different essential oils and essential oil compounds were reported to be able to modulate the expression of genes that are involved in the formation of autoinducer molecules, biofilms, and virulence factors. The anti-quorum sensing activity of some essential oils and single essential oil compounds was demonstrated using the gram-negative bacterium C. violaceum. Reporter strains of this bacterium produce the violet-colored compound violacein whose synthesis is regulated by quorum sensing autoinducer molecules called acylhomeserinlactones. Of great interest was the discovery that enantiomeric monoterpenes affected the quorum sensing regulation system in different ways. While the (+)-enantiomers of carvone, limonene, and borneol increased violacein formation, their (−)-analogues inhibited violacein production.

For the successful eradication of biofilms and the bacteria living inside them, it is absolutely necessary that the lipophilic volatile substances can penetrate into the aqueous channels of biofilms. As shown in recent work, hydrophilic nano-delivery systems encapsulating essential oils/essential oil compounds with antibacterial effects may contribute to overcome this problem.