Azithromycin inhibits IL-1 secretion and non-canonical inflammasome activation

Sci Rep. 2015 Jul 8;5:12016. doi: 10.1038/srep12016.


Deregulation of inflammasome activation was recently identified to be involved in the pathogenesis of various inflammatory diseases. Although macrolide antibiotics display well described immunomodulatory properties, presumably involved in their clinical effects, their impact on inflammasome activation has not been investigated. We compared the influence of macrolides on cytokine induction in human monocytes. The role of intracellular azithromycin-accumulation was examined by interference with Ca(++)-dependent uptake. We have also analysed the signalling cascades involved in inflammasome activation, and substantiated the findings in a murine sepsis model. Azithromycin, but not clarithromycin or roxithromycin, specifically inhibited IL-1α and IL-1β secretion upon LPS stimulation. Interference with Ca(++)-dependent uptake abolished the cytokine-modulatory effect, suggesting a role of intracellular azithromycin accumulation in the modulatory role of this macrolide. Azithromycin's inhibiting effects were observed upon LPS, but not upon flagellin, stimulation. Consistent with this observation, we found impaired induction of the LPS-sensing caspase-4 whereas NF-κB signalling was unaffected. Furthermore, azithromycin specifically affected IL-1β levels in a murine endotoxin sepsis model. We provide the first evidence of a differential impact of macrolides on the inflammasome/IL-1β axis, which may be of relevance in inflammasome-driven diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Azithromycin / toxicity*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Caspases, Initiator / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-1alpha / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / toxicity
  • Macrolides / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Monocytes / cytology
  • Monocytes / drug effects
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Sepsis / etiology
  • Sepsis / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Cytokines
  • Inflammasomes
  • Interleukin-1alpha
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Macrolides
  • NF-kappa B
  • Azithromycin
  • CASP4 protein, human
  • Caspases, Initiator
  • Calcium