Macrolides protect against Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection via inhibition of inflammasomes

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2017 Oct 1;313(4):L677-L686. doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00123.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 6.


Macrolides antibiotics have been effectively used in many chronic diseases, especially with Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa) infection. The mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effects of macrolides in these diseases remain poorly understood. We established a mouse model of chronic lung infection using P. aeruginosa agar-beads, with azithromycin treatment or placebo. Lung injury, bacterial clearance, and inflammasome-related proteins were measured. In vitro, the inflammasomes activation induced by flagellin or ATP were assessed in LPS-primed macrophages with or without macrolides treatment. Plasma IL-18 levels were determined from patients who were diagnosed with bronchiectasis isolated with or without P. aeruginosa and treated with azithromycin for 3-5 days. Azithromycin treatment enhanced bacterial clearance and attenuated lung injury in mice chronically infected with P. aeruginosa, which resulted from the inhibition of caspase-1-dependent IL-1β and IL-18 secretion. In vitro, azithromycin and erythromycin inhibited NLRC4 and NLRP3 inflammasomes activation. Plasma IL-18 levels were higher in bronchiectasis patients with P. aeruginosa isolation compared with healthy controls. Azithromycin administration markedly decreased IL-18 secretion in bronchiectasis patients. The results of this study reveal that azithromycin and erythromycin exert a novel anti-inflammatory effect by attenuating inflammasomes activation, which suggests potential treatment options for inflammasome-related diseases.

Keywords: Pseudomonas aeruginosa; immunomodulatory effects; inflammasomes; macrolides.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Azithromycin / pharmacology
  • Bronchiectasis / drug therapy*
  • Bronchiectasis / microbiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Inflammasomes / drug effects
  • Macrolides / pharmacology*
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas Infections / prevention & control*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Inflammasomes
  • Macrolides
  • Azithromycin