Azithromycin inhibits IL-5 production of T helper type 2 cells from asthmatic children

Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2011;156(2):179-86. doi: 10.1159/000322872. Epub 2011 May 18.


Background: Childhood asthma is a type 2 helper T (Th2) cell-driven inflammatory airway disease characterized by recurrent episodes of airway obstruction. Azithromycin (AZM), a macrolide antibiotic exhibiting anti-inflammatory activity aside from its antibacterial effect, may prove beneficial for asthmatic children. This study aimed to determine the effect of AZM on Th2 cells from atopic asthmatic children and non-atopic controls.

Methods: CD4+ cells were isolated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 9 patients with asthma and 9 non-atopic individuals. Cells were activated as Th0 and differentiated into Th2 cells. The effect of AZM on activated CD4+ cells was evaluated with respective cell proliferation and cytokine production.

Results: Th0 and Th2 CD4+ T cells from atopic asthmatic children produced greater interleukin (IL)-5 (Th2 cytokine) but lower interferon (IFN)-γ (Th1 cytokine) compared to the non-atopic controls, respectively. AZM inhibited IL-5 production of Th0 and Th2 cells from atopic asthmatics in a dose-dependent fashion, without significantly affecting their IL-13 and IFN-γ production. A similar effect was observed in non-atopic controls except that AZM did inhibit IFN-γ production of their Th0 cells. AZM at a higher dose decreased cell viability by inhibiting CD4+ T cell proliferation and enhanced their apoptosis, an effect similarly observed in Th0 and Th2 cells, and did not differ between asthmatic children and controls.

Conclusion: Our finding that AZM preferentially downregulates IL-5 production suggests its therapeutic potentials in controlling childhood asthma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Asthma / blood
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Azithromycin / pharmacology*
  • Cell Survival / immunology
  • Child
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interleukin-13 / blood
  • Interleukin-13 / immunology
  • Interleukin-5 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Interleukin-5 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-5 / blood
  • Interleukin-5 / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Th2 Cells / cytology
  • Th2 Cells / immunology*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • IL5 protein, human
  • Interleukin-13
  • Interleukin-5
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Azithromycin