Lu et al.
Chronic wounds are a major global health problem. Their management is difficult and costly, and the development of antibiotic resistance by both planktonic and biofilm-associated bacteria necessitates the use of alternative wound treatments. Honey is now being revisited as an alternative treatment due to its broad-spectrum antibacterial activity and the inability of bacteria to develop resistance to it. Many previous antibacterial studies have used honeys that are not well characterized, even in terms of quantifying the levels of the major antibacterial components present, making it difficult to build an evidence base for the efficacy of honey as an antibiofilm agent in chronic wound treatment. Here we show that a range of well-characterized New Zealand manuka-type honeys, in which two principle antibacterial components, methylglyoxal and hydrogen peroxide, were quantified, can eradicate biofilms of a range of Staphylococcus aureus strains that differ widely in their biofilm-forming abilities. Using crystal violet and viability assays, along with confocal laser scanning imaging, we demonstrate that in all S. aureus strains, including methicillin-resistant strains, the manuka-type honeys showed significantly higher anti-biofilm activity than clover honey and an isotonic sugar solution. We observed higher anti-biofilm activity as the proportion of manuka-derived honey, and thus methylglyoxal, in a honey blend increased. However, methylglyoxal on its own, or with sugar, was not able to effectively eradicate S. aureus biofilms. We also demonstrate that honey was able to penetrate through the biofilm matrix and kill the embedded cells in some cases. As has been reported for antibiotics, sub-inhibitory concentrations of honey improved biofilm formation by some S. aureus strains, however, biofilm cell suspensions recovered after honey treatment did not develop resistance towards manuka-type honeys. New Zealand manuka-type honeys, at the concentrations they can be applied in wound dressings are highly active in both preventing S. aureus biofilm formation and in their eradication, and do not result in bacteria becoming resistant. Methylglyoxal requires other components in manuka-type honeys for this anti-biofilm activity. Our findings support the use of well-defined manuka-type honeys as a topical anti-biofilm treatment for the effective management of wound healing.