The use of macrolide antibiotics in patients with cystic fibrosis

Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2004 Nov;10(6):515-23. doi: 10.1097/01.mcp.0000142101.53084.f0.


Purpose of review: There has been much recent interest in the use of macrolide antibiotics as chronic suppressive therapy in patients with cystic fibrosis. Three recent randomized, placebo-controlled trials have been conducted.

Recent findings: All three trials used similar regimens of azithromycin, and lung function improved after 3 to 6 months of treatment. The relative change in forced expiratory volume in 1 second predicted improved between 3.6% and 6.2%. Furthermore, the azithromycin treatment groups had improvement in a variety of secondary outcomes related to pulmonary exacerbations, including a reduction in antibiotic use (both intravenous and oral) and hospitalization rate. Furthermore, azithromycin was well tolerated: Only nausea, diarrhea, and wheezing (described as mild to moderate) occurred more frequently in the azithromycin group compared with the placebo group. The evidence for the clinical benefit of azithromycin in cystic fibrosis has been summarized in a Cochrane review in which a meta-analysis confirmed a significant improvement in forced expiratory volume in 1 second among the 286 pooled participants.

Summary: Azithromycin has entered the therapeutic armamentarium for patients with cystic fibrosis who are chronically infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Improved lung function, a reduction in pulmonary exacerbations and antibiotic use, and weight gain are potential benefits of this drug. Future studies should address the use of azithromycin in other cystic fibrosis patient populations, including those patients without chronic infection with P. aeruginosa, children younger than 6 years of age, and those infected with Burkholderia cepacia complex. The mechanism of action of macrolide antibiotics in cystic fibrosis remains unknown.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Azithromycin / therapeutic use*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / drug therapy*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Pseudomonas Infections / drug therapy
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Azithromycin