Characteristics and mechanisms of azithromycin accumulation and efflux in human polymorphonuclear leukocytes

Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2001 Nov;18(5):419-25. doi: 10.1016/s0924-8579(01)00430-7.


Azithromycin achieves prolonged, high tissue concentrations in spite of low serum levels and obviously must be active at tissue sites of infection to be effective. These unique features prompted us to evaluate the interactions of azithromycin and human polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN). Uptake of radiolabeled antibiotic by PMN was determined by a velocity-gradient centrifugation technique and expressed as the ratio of cellular to extracellular drug concentration (C/E). Azithromycin was massively accumulated by human PMN (C/E=387.2 at 2 h). Uptake was not influenced by inhibitors of cellular metabolism, but phagocytosis slightly inhibited the entry of azithromycin into PMN. After removal of extracellular drug, the release (efflux) of azithromycin from PMN was extremely slow. Agents which neutralize lysosomal pH, preventing protonation and trapping of azithromycin, markedly increased antibiotic efflux. Active concentration and prolonged retention of azithromycin by phagocytic cells should allow delivery and subsequent release of accumulated drug at sites of infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Azithromycin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Azithromycin / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Azithromycin