Cationic surfactants, such as benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride, possess quaternary ammonium salt. These surfactants have antimicrobial action and are used as a preservative and an antiseptic. The positively charged polar head of cationic surfactants seems to play a role in the antimicrobial action of these compounds. Recently, benzalkonium chloride in eye drops has been reported to induce apoptosis in conjunctival cells. Here, we examined whether various types of surfactants including anionic and amphoteric surfactants induce apoptosis or not in mammalian cells. Antimicrobial cationic surfactants induced apoptosis at lower concentration than its critical micelle concentration (CMC) in rat thymocytes. Other quaternary ammonium surfactants, such as cetyltrimethylammonium bromide, similarly increased biochemical and morphological features of apoptosis, whereas both anionic and amphoteric surfactants had no significant effect on these apoptotic features. These results suggest that the positive charge of quaternary ammonium surfactants is involved with onset of the apoptotic process. The treatment of benzethonium chloride also led to apoptotic cell death in Jurkat cells. These results indicate that cationic surfactants induce apoptosis in the normal and cancer cells
New York Academy of Sciences
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1095: 1–6.