Synthetic Dyes as Antiseptics and Chemotherapeutic Agents


GENERAL interest in this subject has been recently stimulated by accounts in the daily press of a communication to the Society of Chemical Industry at Manchester by Messrs. Fan-brother and Renshaw.1 The fact, however, ought not to be overlooked that much work has been in the past devoted to these problems by a number of investigators. That certain dyes of the triphenylmethane class possess marked antiseptic properties has long been known. Thus Stilling2 in 1890 noted the powerful effect of ethyl violet on staphylococci (one of the commonest group of organisms which cause suppuration). He suggested the use of a mixture of allied dyes in the treatment of infective conditions, especially of the eye. But Stilling's suggestion found little favour with practical surgeons. As compared with phenol or mercuric chloride, the antiseptic dye-stuffs in general exert their lethal action on bacteria relatively slowly; thus, when tested by the usual method, in which only a brief period of contact between the organisms and the chemical agent is permitted, these dyes appear to act very weakly. It is probably for this reason that they were neglected.


  1. 1

    Fairbrother and Renshaw, Times, March 31, 1922; Journ. Pathol. and Bacteriol., 1922, 25, p. 145.

  2. 2

    Stilling, Lancet, 1890, 2, p. 965; ib., 1891, 1, p. 873.

  3. 3

    Churchman, Journ. Exper. Med., 1912, 15, p. 221; ib., 1921, 33, pp, 569 and 583.

  4. 4

    Drigalski and Conradi, Zeitschr. f. Hyg., 1902, 39, p. 283.

  5. 5

    Browning and Gilmour, Journ. Pathol. and Bacteriol., 1913, 18, p. 144; Browning, Gilmour, and Gulbransen in Browning's "Applied Bacteriology," London, 1918, p. 65.

  6. 5a

    Young, White, and Swartz, Journ. Amer. Med. Assoc., Nov. 15, 1919.

  7. 6

    Rozsahegyi, Cent. f. Bakt., 1887, 2, p. 418.

  8. 7

    Browning, Cohen, and Gulbransen, Brit. Med. Journ., 1922, 1, p. 514.

  9. 8

    Dreyer, Kriegler, and Walker, Journ. Path, and Bacteriol., 1910, 15, p. 133.

  10. 9

    Browning, Cohen, Gaunt, and Gulbransen, Roy. Soc., B, 1922, 93, p. 329; Browning and Cohen, Brit. Med. Journ., Oct. 29, 1921.

  11. 10

    Ehrlich and Shiga, Berl. klin. Wochenschr., 1904, pp. 329, 362.

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BROWNING, C. Synthetic Dyes as Antiseptics and Chemotherapeutic Agents. Nature 109, 750–751 (1922).

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