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  • Tetracycline is an antibiotic used to treat conditions including acne and respiratory infections.

  • It belongs to a group of antibiotics that includes minocycline, oxytetracycline, doxycycline, and other related antibiotics.

  • Tetracyclines were discovered in the late 1940s and were extremely popular when they were first introduced.

  • Tetracyclines got their name because they share a chemical structure that has four rings.They were originally derived from soil bacteria Streptomyces aureofaciens.

Mode of action

  • Tetracycline works by interfering with the ability of bacteria to produce proteins that are essential to them. Without these proteins the bacteria cannot grow, multiply and increase in numbers. Tetracycline therefore stops the spread of the infection and the remaining bacteria are killed by the immune system or eventually die.

  • Tetracyclines act at the ribosomal level where they interfere with the protein synthesis of susceptible bacteria. They also have several non-antibiotic properties:

    • Anti-inflammatory effects

    • Inhibition of metalloproteinases (enzymes that inhibit collagen and gelatin production)

    • Reduction of new blood vessel formation (angiogenesis)

    • Reduction of programmed cell death (apoptosis)


  • Researchers have studied the outcome of pregnancies when women took tetracycline during the first trimester (the first 12 weeks), which is the period when all the body organs are forming. These studies have not shown an increased risk for major birth defects in children exposed to tetracycline in the first trimester of pregnancy.

  • There may be a small increased risk for minor birth defects such as an inguinal hernia, but the number of reports is too small to be sure this risk exists.

  • In a baby, the bones and teeth continue to harden until one year of age. Therefore, if a baby is exposed to tetracycline in breast milk, theoretically it could cause tooth discoloration and delayed bone growth. Yet, since only very low levels of tetracycline enter into the breast milk, no problems have been reported in nursing babies.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has rated tetracycline as usually compatible with breastfeeding. Also, the WHO Working Group on Human Lactation states that when the antibiotic is used for seven to 10 days while nursing, the risk to the infant appears to be low.

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