Immunomodulatory effects of macrolide antibiotics - part 1: biological mechanisms

Respiration. 2011;81(1):67-74. doi: 10.1159/000320319. Epub 2010 Aug 21.


Macrolide antibiotics are well known for their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This article provides an overview of the biological mechanisms through which macrolides exert this 'double effect'. Their antibacterial effect consists of the inhibition of bacterial protein synthesis, impaired bacterial biofilm synthesis, and the attenuation of other bacterial virulence factors. Apart from these direct antimicrobial effects, macrolides are known for their modulating effect on many components of the human immune system. By influencing the production of cytokines, they have a dampening effect on the proinflammatory response. Furthermore, the majority of cells involved in the immune response are, in one way or another, influenced when macrolide antibiotics are administered. Having such an obvious effect on the various aspects of the immune system, macrolides seem to be exceptionally suited for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / immunology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / immunology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Bronchiolitis* / immunology
  • Bronchiolitis* / microbiology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / drug effects
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology
  • Macrolides* / immunology
  • Macrolides* / pharmacology
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / immunology
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Macrolides
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors