Antibacterial properties of cyanoacrylate tissue adhesive: Does the polymerization reaction play a role? : Indian Journal of Ophthalmology

Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Original Article

Antibacterial properties of cyanoacrylate tissue adhesive

Does the polymerization reaction play a role?

Romero, Ivana L1,; Malta, João B N S1,3; Silva, Cely B2; Mimica, Lycia M J2; Soong, Kaz H3; Hida, Richard Y1,4

Author Information
Indian Journal of Ophthalmology 57(5):p 341-344, Sep–Oct 2009. | DOI: 10.4103/0301-4738.55065
  • Open


Cyanoacrylate polymers have been used as biological adhesives in the cornea for over 40 years.[13] Their monomers are obtained through the condensation of cyanoacetate with formaldehyde in a base-catalyzed reaction.[4] A polymer is formed as a number of monomers join together under the effect of a catalyst, such as water.[5]

The polymerized adhesive promotes wound healing, vascularization, and epithelialization of the injured corneal stroma.[6] It also inhibits corneal melting by directly antagonizing collagenases and by blocking the migration of inflammatory cells, such as polymorphonuclear leukocytes.[4]

The antimicrobial properties of cyanoacrylate tissue adhesives have been reported previously and some authors have even promoted its use in the prophylaxis or treatment of infection in corneal ulcers.[79] It has also been postulated that the antimicrobial effects may be derived, at least in part, from the polymerization process itself, although no study has specifically analyzed this assumption.[8]

The aim of the study was to establish the role of the polymerization reaction in conferring additional antibacterial properties to cyanoacrylate tissue adhesives.

Materials and Methods

Two cyanoacrylate tissue adhesives were studied in the in vitro experiments: Ethyl-cyanoacrylate (EC) (Superbonder®, Loctite, Brazil) and N-butyl-cyanoacrylate (BC) (Histoacryl®, Braun GmbH, Brazil). Six microliters of adhesive were applied onto standard 6-mm sterile filter-paper discs, using sterile micropipettes (Eppendorf®, Hamburg, Germany) under sterile conditions.

The following bacterial strains from the American type culture collection (ATCC) were analyzed: Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC25924), Streptococcus pneumoniae (ATCC49619), Escherichia coli (ATCC25922), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (ATCC27853). They were primarily incubated in a nutrient broth at a temperature of 35°C until reaching 0.5 on the McFarland scale (turbidity of bacterial suspension at a population of approximately 1.5 × 108 organisms). The bacteria were then transferred as confluent monolayer cultures to Müller-Hinton media following the Kirby-Bauer modified technique, with the exception of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which was transferred to blood agar media.

Ten Müller-Hinton agar plates (150-mm diameter) were used for each of the following bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Twenty blood agar plates (90-mm diameter) were used for Streptococcus pneumoniae. A blank disc without adhesive was placed in the center of each bacterial plate as a control.

In each Müller-Hinton plate, eight additional discs were placed onto the cultures (in addition to the control disc): two with actively polymerizing (liquid) EC (EC-liq); two with previously polymerized (solidified) EC (EC-poly); two with actively polymerizing (liquid) BC (BC-liq); and two with previously polymerized (solidified) BC (BC-poly). For the blood agar plates, four discs were placed onto the cultures (in addition to the control disc): one with actively polymerizing (liquid) EC (EC-liq); one with previously polymerized (solidified) EC (EC-poly); one with actively polymerizing (liquid) BC (BC-liq); and one with previously polymerized (solidified) BC (BC-poly). To achieve prior polymerization of the cyanoacrylate in EC-poly and BC-poly, the adhesive-soaked discs were exposed to air under a sterile hood for 30 min before being placed on the cultures. All actively polymerized samples were applied directly into the disc placed in the plate. All plates were then incubated at 35°C for 24 h, after which the bacterial inhibitory halos, if present, were measured in millimeters [Fig. 1].

Figure 1:
(a) Müller-Hinton media plate cultured with Staphylococcus aureus. (b) Blood agar plate cultured with Streptococcus pneumoniae. Inhibition halos seen around the discs of ethyl-cyanoacrylate (EC) (black arrows) and N-butyl-cyanocrylate (BC) (white arrows). Central disc is control (gray arrow). (c) Measurement of inhibition halo with ruler

In order to evaluate if the bacterial inhibitory halos were the result of mere bacteriostasis or actual bactericidal effects, two samples per halo were collected from the clear agar within the inhibitory halos and re-cultured on new bacterial culture plates. The new plates were re-incubated at 35°C and analyzed after 48 h. Bactericidal activity was measured by calculating the percentage of plates with no bacterial growth. All the microbiological procedures and readings were performed by one author (CBS). The results were statistically analyzed with the Student T-test and significance was defined as P < 0.05.


Table 1 shows the mean and standard deviation (SD) of the inhibitory halo (mm) for EC-liq and EC-poly for each microorganism studied. For EC, the polymerization reaction appeared to enhance the antibacterial effect in Streptococcus pneumonia (P=0.0014), Escherichia coli (P<0.0001) and Staphylococcus aureus (P=0.019), but not in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Table 1:
Mean and standard deviation (SD) of inhibitory halos (mm), comparing actively polymerizing liquid ethyl-cyanoacrylate discs (EC-liq) with previously polymerized ethyl-cyanoacrylate discs (EC-poly) for Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Statistical significance of difference between EC-liq and EC-poly is given as P-values

Table 2 shows the mean and SD of the inhibitory halo (mm) for BC-liq and BC-poly for each microorganism studied. For BC, the polymerization reaction appeared to enhance the antibacterial effect in Staphylococcus aureus (P<0.0001) and Streptococcus pneumoniae (P=0.0010), but not in Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Table 2:
Mean and standard deviation (SD) of inhibitory halos (mm), comparing actively polymerizing liquid N-butylcyanoacrylate discs (BC-liq) with previously polymerized N-butyl-cyanoacrylate discs (BC-poly) for Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa

The results of the bactericidal analyses of EC and BC are summarized in Table 3. The bactericidal effect was higher in EC-liq when compared to EC-poly in Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Escherichia coli, but this bactericidal enhancement by the polymerization reaction was not observed in BC. The bactericidal effect was not analyzed for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, since there was no inhibitory halo.

Table 3:
Bactericidal effect of actively polymerizing liquid ethyl-cyanoacrylate (EC) and N-buthyl-cyanoacrylate (BC) (EC-liq and BC-liq) and previously polymerized (EC-poly and BC-poly) against the microorganisms in question


Antibacterial effects were enhanced by the polymerization reaction in EC for Streptococcus pneumonia, Staphylococus aureus and Escherichia coli. In Escherichia coli, however, inhibitory halos were totally absent without exposure to the active polymerization reaction. For BC, inhibitory halos were observed only for gram-positive bacteria. No inhibitory halo was observed for Pseudomonas aeruginosa for either EC or BC, with or without exposure to the active polymerization reaction.

The antibacterial effects of cyanoacrylate are greater in gram-positive bacteria than in gram-negative, possibly because the latter are protected by an outer carbohydrate capsule.[10] Our results did indeed show that the susceptibility to cyanoacrylate of the two gram-positive organisms tested, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae, to be much greater than of the two gram-negative organisms tested, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Eiferman et al. reported the absence of inhibitory halos in Klebsiella pneumoniae[7] a gram-negative enterobacterium similar to Escherichia coli.

EC appeared to have a greater antibacterial effect than BC for Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. This difference may be due to the greater tissue toxicity and antimicrobial effects associated with shorter-alkyl chain cyanoacrylates, such as EC, over the longer-alkyl chain cyanoacrylates, such as BC. As a rule, shorter alkyl-chain cyanoacrylates are characterized by greater instability and faster chemical degradation than the longer alkyl-chain counterparts, resulting in higher levels of ambient degradation, products such as cyanoacetate and formaldehyde.[11]

The bactericidal effect of the adhesives was lower than in previous studies.[7912] This discrepancy may be due in part to differences in volumes of cyanoacrylate studied, as well as the unstandardized volumes utilized in previous studies. Our use of standard diameter filter-paper disc carriers instead of merely dropping the cyanoacrylate directly onto the cultures could contribute to this discrepancy from previous studies. The diameter of the cyanoacrylate in the free-drop method in previous studies may be much more variable than that of our standardized disc method. Although Eiferman et al. established a standard volume of adhesive of 100 μl, no bactericidal studies were performed.[7]

A polymer of cyanoacrylate is formed as a number of monomers join together under the effect of any catalyst (water). The polymer decomposes to produce cyanoacetate and formaldehyde. Such degradation products can diffuse out. Therefore, there is an inhibition halo even in a polymerized state.[45]

Although the effect of the polymerization reaction was relatively small for gram-positive micro organisms, the values were statistically significant. Nevertheless, as per gram-negative micro organism like Escherichia coli, the effect of the polymerization reaction in EC was very important.

Regarding restrictions of this study, “in vivo” reproduction is not possible because the material loses its adhesive capacity to mold onto irregular surfaces after polymerization reaction. On top of that, when cyanoacrylate-based tissue adhesive gets into contact with water, it solidifies. Therefore, it is not possible to use different concentrations of the adhesive and to obtain the MIC 90, which is used to evaluate antimicrobial properties in antibiotics and is defined as the antimicrobial concentration that inhibits growth of 90% of the microorganisms.

In conclusion, the polymerization reaction appears to have an important contributory role in the antibacterial activity of cyanoacrylate tissue adhesives and may be exploited in the treatment of corneal ulcers. Therefore, in severe or recalcitrant gram-positive bacterial corneal ulcers, for instance, one may consider the use of shorter alkyl-chain adhesives with their strong antibacterial properties, as a supplement to topical antibiotics. This antibacterial effect may be an advantage when glue is applied to the cornea in patients with melting or perforation.


1. Bloomfield S, Barnert AH, Kanter PD. The use of Eastman 910 monomer as an adhesive in ocular surgery. I. Biologic effects on ocular tissues Am J Ophthalmol. 1963;55:742–8
2. Bloomfield S, Barnert AH, Kanter P. The use of Eastman-910 monomer as an adhesive in ocular surgery. II. Effectiveness in closure of limbal wounds in rabbits Am J Ophthalmol. 1963;55:946–53
3. Straatsma BR, Allen RA, Hale PN, Gomez R. Experimental studies employing adhesive compounds in ophthalmic surgery Trans Am Acad Ophthalmol Otolaryngol. 1963;67:320–34
4. Refojo MF, Dohlman CH, Ahmad B, Carrol JM, Allen JC. Evaluation of adhesives for corneal surgery Arch Ophthalmol. 1968;80:645–56
5. Gasset AR, Hood CI, Ellison ED, Kaufman HE. Ocular tolerance to cyanoacrylate monomer tissue adhesive analogues Invest Ophthalmol. 1970;9:3–11
6. Sharma A, Kaur R, Kumar S, Gupta P, Panda V S, Patnaik B, et al Fibrin glue versus N-butyl-2-cyanoacrylate in corneal perforations Ophthalmology. 2003;110:291–8
7. Eiferman RA, Snyder JW. Antibacterial effect of cyanoacrylate glue Arch Ophthalmol. 1983;101:958–60
8. de Almeida Manzano RP, Naufal SC, Hida RY, Guarnieri LO, Nishiwaki-Dantas MC. Antibacterial analysis in vitro of ethyl-cyanoacrylate against ocular pathogens Cornea. 2006;25:350–1
9. Chen WL, Lin CT, Hsieh CY, Tu IH, Chen WY, Hu FR. Comparison of the bacteriostatic effects, corneal cytotoxicity, and the ability to seal corneal incisions among three different tissue adhesives Cornea. 2007;26:1228–34
10. Schembri MA, Dalsgaard D, Klemm P. Capsule shields the function of short bacterial adhesins J Bacteriol. 2004;186:1249–57
11. Lehman RAW, West RL, Leonard F. Toxicity of alky l2-cyanoacrylates Arch Surg. 1966;93:447–50
12. Jandinski J, Sonis S. In vitro effects of isobutyl cyanocrylate on four types of bacteria J Dent Res. 1971;50:1557–8

Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared.


Antibacterial; cyanoacrylate; tissue adhesive

© 2009 Indian Journal of Ophthalmology | Published by Wolters Kluwer – Medknow