Phenolic compounds are believed to be promising candidates as complementary therapeutics. Maple syrup, prepared by concentrating the sap from the North American maple tree, is a rich source of natural and process-derived phenolic compounds. In this work, we report the antimicrobial activity of a phenolic-rich maple syrup extract (PRMSE). PRMSE exhibited antimicrobial activity as well as strong synergistic interaction with selected antibiotics against Gram-negative clinical strains of
Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Among the phenolic constituents of PRMSE, catechol exhibited strong synergy with antibiotics as well as with other phenolic components of PRMSE against bacterial growth. At sublethal concentrations, PRMSE and catechol efficiently reduced biofilm formation and increased the susceptibility of bacterial biofilms to antibiotics. In an effort to elucidate the mechanism for the observed synergy with antibiotics, PRMSE was found to increase outer membrane permeability of all bacterial strains and effectively inhibit efflux pump activity. Furthermore, transcriptome analysis revealed that PRMSE significantly repressed multiple-drug resistance genes as well as genes associated with motility, adhesion, biofilm formation, and virulence. Overall, this study provides a proof of concept and starting point for investigating the molecular mechanism of the reported increase in bacterial antibiotic susceptibility in the presence of PRMSE.