Effect of theophylline on induced sputum inflammatory indices and neutrophil chemotaxis in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002 May 15;165(10):1371-6. doi: 10.1164/rccm.2105106.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by a neutrophilic airway inflammation that can be demonstrated by examination of induced sputum. Theophylline has antiinflammatory effects in asthma, and in the present study we investigated whether a similar effect occurs in COPD patients treated with low doses of theophylline. Twenty-five patients with COPD were treated with theophylline (plasma level of 9-11 mg/L) for 4 weeks in a placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind crossover study. Theophylline was well tolerated. Induced sputum inflammatory cells, neutrophils, interleukin-8, myeloperoxidase, and lactoferrin were all significantly reduced by about 22% by theophylline. Neutrophils from subjects treated with theophylline showed reduced chemotaxis to N-formyl-met-leu-phe (approximately 28%) and interleukin-8 (approximately 60%). Neutrophils from a healthy donor showed reduced chemotaxis (approximately 30%) to induced sputum samples obtained during theophylline treatment. These results suggest that theophylline has antiinflammatory properties that may be useful in the long-term treatment of COPD.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chemotaxis, Leukocyte / drug effects*
  • Chemotaxis, Leukocyte / physiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophils*
  • Probability
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • Reference Values
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spirometry
  • Sputum / cytology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Theophylline / administration & dosage*


  • Theophylline