High-dose N-acetylcysteine in patients with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Clin Drug Investig. 2005;25(6):401-8. doi: 10.2165/00044011-200525060-00005.


Objective: To investigate the efficacy and tolerability of high-dose N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in the treatment of patients with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Design and patients: Randomised, double-blind, double-dummy, placebo-controlled study in 123 patients experiencing an acute exacerbation of COPD.

Interventions: NAC 1200 mg/day, 600 mg/day or placebo administered once daily for 10 days.

Main outcome measures: The primary objective was to assess the proportion of patients with normalised C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. Also assessed were effects on interleukin (IL)-8 levels, lung function and symptoms.

Results: Both NAC 600 and 1200 mg/day were associated with a significantly higher proportion of patients achieving normalised CRP levels compared with placebo (52% and 90% vs 19% of patients; p </= 0.01); however, NAC 1200 mg/day was superior to NAC 600 mg/day (p = 0.002). Furthermore, treatment with NAC 1200 mg/day was more efficacious than NAC 600 mg/day in reducing IL-8 levels and difficulty of expectoration, while the two active regimens had similar beneficial effects on lung function and other clinical outcomes (cough intensity and frequency, and lung auscultation). Treatments were well tolerated with one adverse event reported in NAC 1200 mg/day recipients and two reported in placebo recipients.

Conclusion: Treatment with NAC 1200 mg/day improved biological markers and clinical outcomes in patients with COPD exacerbations. It is speculated that the effect of NAC on inflammatory markers may be due to both mucolytic and antioxidant properties.