Systemic effects of formoterol and salmeterol: a dose-response comparison in healthy subjects

Thorax. 2000 Aug;55(8):650-6. doi: 10.1136/thorax.55.8.650.


Background: The main adverse effects of inhaled long acting beta(2) agonists relate to their systemic activity. The systemic effects seen over eight hours after inhalation of three doses of salmeterol and formoterol were therefore compared in normal subjects.

Methods: A double blind, randomised, crossover study was carried out in 16 healthy subjects who inhaled formoterol 24, 48 and 96 microg (via Turbuhaler((R))), salmeterol 100, 200 and 400 microg (via Diskhaler((R))), or placebo on separate days. Heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and plasma potassium and glucose concentrations were measured for eight hours following each drug and mean values were used to plot the time course of change after each dose. Mean maximum (or minimum) absolute values were used to construct dose-response curves to calculate the relative dose potency of the two drugs. Lunch was taken after the four hour readings and, since this caused additional changes to the main outcome measures, data from the first four hours are also presented in a post hoc analysis.

Results: Both salmeterol and formoterol caused an early dose dependent increase in heart rate and glucose concentrations and a fall in diastolic blood pressure and plasma potassium concentration; formoterol also caused an early increase in systolic blood pressure. The cardiovascular effects occurred more rapidly than the metabolic effects and the response to formoterol was faster than that of salmeterol, apart from the glycaemic response. The effects of salmeterol were slightly more prolonged than those of formoterol, although some dose related effects were apparent at eight hours with both drugs. The relative dose potency for formoterol compared with salmeterol at four and eight hours for the different end points excluding systolic blood pressure ranged from 1.6 to 7.0 after adjusting for baseline values. Relative dose potencies (95% CI) for maximum heart rate and plasma potassium concentrations were 4.1 (3.0 to 5.6) and 5.8 (4.1 to 8.6) over four hours and 2.4 (1.2 to 3.8) and 3.0 (1.2 to 5.7) over eight hours.

Conclusions: Formoterol and salmeterol cause dose related changes in heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, and plasma glucose and potassium concentrations. Formoterol has a more rapid onset for most end points whereas salmeterol has slightly more prolonged activity. Both drugs have a relatively modest therapeutic window. The relative dose potencies of the two drugs for the main end points were similar to the fourfold difference in recommended doses. Some differences in the pharmacological profile of the two drugs emerged and are as yet unexplained.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Adult
  • Albuterol / administration & dosage
  • Albuterol / adverse effects
  • Albuterol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Albuterol / pharmacology
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Ethanolamines / administration & dosage*
  • Ethanolamines / adverse effects
  • Ethanolamines / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Formoterol Fumarate
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Salmeterol Xinafoate


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Blood Glucose
  • Ethanolamines
  • Salmeterol Xinafoate
  • Albuterol
  • Potassium
  • Formoterol Fumarate