Staphylococcus aureus causes food intoxication and can become resistant to a large number of antibacterial drugs. Thus, there is a growing interest in understanding the mechanisms involved in the adaptation of bacterial cells to environmental stresses or to antimicrobial agents. In this context, we evaluated the cinnamaldehyde (CIN) MBC for two contaminating food strains of S. aureus (GL 5674 and GL 8702) and tested the hypothesis that exposure of these strains to sublethal CIN concentrations and pH values could increase their resistance to this antimicrobial agent, to acid stress, and also to stress at high temperatures. Thus, the ability of the strains to adapt to CIN and acid stress was evaluated, as well as the cross-adaptation between acid stress and CIN. Strains GL 5674 and GL 8702 of S. aureus are sensitive to CIN in MBCs of 0.25 and 0.5% respectively, proving the antibacterial potential of this compound, but we proved the hypothesis of homologous adaptation to CIN. The strains grew in concentrations higher than the MBC after being previously exposed to sublethal concentrations of CIN. We also observed heterologous adaptation of the strains, which after exposure to the minimum pH for growth, were able to grow in concentrations of CIN greater than the MBC. GL 5674 showed greater adaptive plasticity, considerably reducing its minimum inhibitory pH and increasing its MBC after adaptation. Our results show a positive effect of adaptation to CIN on the resistance of S. aureus (P < 0.0001) to CIN at a temperature of 37°C. However, in the absence of adaptation, the presence of CIN in S. aureus cultures maintained at 37°C showed an efficient bactericidal effect associated with increased exposure time. Our results call attention to the conscious use of CIN as an antimicrobial agent and present the possibility of using CIN, in association with a temperature of 37°C and an exposure time of 35 min, as a promising measure for the elimination of pathogenic strains.

  • CIN eliminates S. aureus GL 5674 and GL 8702 when used in MBCs of 0.25 and 0.5%, respectively.

  • Preexposure to sublethal CIN concentrations increased resistance to concentrations above the MBCs.

  • Preexposure to sublethal pHs increased resistance to pHs below the minimum inhibitory pHs.

  • CIN used at the MBC at 37°C for 35 min is promising for the elimination of S. aureus.

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