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This study was undertaken to further examine the antimicrobial actions of the alkaloid cryptolepine.The minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of cryptolepine against Staphylococcus aureus was determined using the broth dilution method. Time-kill kinetics and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) techniques were employed to monitor the survival characteristics and the changes in morphologies respectively of staphylococci in the presence of cryptolepine. A notable antistaphylococcal activity was recorded for cryptolepine (MIC against S. aureus NCTC 10788 = 5 μg ml−1). Cryptolepine appears to have a lytic effect on S. aureus as seen in SEM photomicrographs following 3, 6 or 24 h treatment with 4X MIC, i.e. 20 μg ml−1 of cryptolepine. The surface morphological appearance of the staphylococcal cells was also altered. The lytic effect appeared to coincide with low viable counts recorded in survival curves following treatment with cryptolepine.These findings demonstrate that lysis occurs when susceptible organisms are exposed to cryptolepine.