Antimicrobial surface coatings that act through a contact-killing mechanism (not diffusive release) could offer many advantages to the design of medical device coatings that prevent microbial colonization and infections. However, as the authors show here, to prevent arriving at an incorrect conclusion about their mechanism of action, it is essential to employ thorough washing protocols validated by surface analytical data. Antimicrobial surface coatings were fabricated by covalently attaching polyene antifungal drugs to surface coatings. Thorough washing (often considered to be sufficient to remove noncovalently attached molecules) was used after immobilization and produced samples that showed a strong antifungal effect, with a log 6 reduction in Candida albicans colony forming units. However, when an additional washing step using surfactants and warmed solutions was used, more firmly adsorbed compounds were eluted from the surface as evidenced by XPS and ToF-SIMS, resulting in reduction and complete elimination of in vitro antifungal activity. Thus, polyene molecules covalently attached to surfaces appear not to have a contact-killing effect, probably because they fail to reach their membrane target. Without additional stringent washing and surface analysis, the initial favorable antimicrobial testing results could have been misinterpreted as evidencing activity of covalently grafted polyenes, while in reality activity arose from desorbing physisorbed molecules. To avoid unintentional confirmation bias, they suggest that binding and washing protocols be analytically verified by qualitative/quantitative instrumental methods, rather than relying on false assumptions of the rigors of washing/soaking protocols.

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