Clarithromycin targets neutrophilic airway inflammation in refractory asthma

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008 Jan 15;177(2):148-55. doi: 10.1164/rccm.200707-1134OC. Epub 2007 Oct 18.


Rationale: Patients with refractory asthma have persistent symptoms despite maximal treatment with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting bronchodilators. The availability of add-on therapies is limited, and effective add-on therapies that target noneosinophilic airway inflammation are needed. Macrolide antibiotics, such as clarithromycin, have in vitro efficacy against IL-8 and neutrophils, key inflammatory mediators in noneosinophilic asthma.

Objectives: To determine the efficacy of clarithromycin in patients with severe refractory asthma and specifically in a subgroup of patients with noneosinophilic asthma.

Methods: Subjects with severe refractory asthma (n = 45) were randomized to receive clarithromycin (500 mg twice daily) or placebo for 8 weeks.

Measurements and main results: The primary outcome for this study was sputum IL-8 concentration. Other inflammatory outcomes assessed included sputum neutrophil numbers and concentrations of neutrophil elastase and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-9. Clinical outcomes were also assessed, including lung function, airway hyperresponsiveness to hypertonic saline, asthma control, quality of life, and symptoms. Clarithromycin therapy significantly reduced airway concentrations of IL-8 and neutrophil numbers and improved quality-of-life scores compared with placebo. Reductions in neutrophil elastase and MMP-9 concentrations were also observed. These reductions in inflammation were most marked in those with refractory noneosinophilic asthma.

Conclusions: Clarithromycin therapy can modulate IL-8 levels and neutrophil accumulation and activation in the airways of patients with refractory asthma. Macrolide therapy may be an important additional therapy that could be used to reduce noneosinophilic airway inflammation, particularly neutrophilic inflammation, in asthma. Clinical trial registered with the Australian Clinical Trials Registry (No. 12605000318684).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Clarithromycin / adverse effects
  • Clarithromycin / pharmacology
  • Clarithromycin / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-8 / drug effects*
  • Interleukin-8 / genetics
  • Interleukin-8 / metabolism
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / metabolism*
  • Quality of Life
  • Sputum / immunology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Interleukin-8
  • Clarithromycin