Erythromycin-induced Suppression of Pulmonary Antibacterial Defenses. A Potential Mechanism of Superinfection in the Lung

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1987 Nov;136(5):1207-12. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/136.5.1207.


Erythromycin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic commonly used in patients with respiratory infections. Certain of these patients become colonized with new microorganisms and develop superinfections. Antibiotics have a number of effects other than simply killing or inhibiting the growth of bacteria and may have direct effects upon host cells, including phagocytes. In vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated that erythromycin decreases polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) directed migration. To test the hypothesis that erythromycin inhibits normal PMN migration into the alveoli in response to a bacterial challenge, mice were challenged by aerosol inhalation with Proteus mirabilis or Staphylococcus aureus and injected intravenously with erythromycin (50 or 100 mg/kg). Pulmonary bactericidal activity and total lavaged lung cell and differential counts were determined 4 h after bacterial challenge. In control mice, only 24 +/- 2% of the initial inoculum of P. mirabilis was viable at 4 h. At a dose of 100 mg/kg, lung defenses after erythromycin were ablated, allowing the proliferation of P. mirabilis to 113 +/- 5% of the initial inoculum. The number of PMN obtained by lavage after P. mirabilis challenge was also inhibited by erythromycin in a dose-dependent manner. In untreated animals, 5.0 +/- 0.2 x 10(6) PMN were recovered as compared with 3.1 +/- 0.4 x 10(6) and 1.1 +/- 0.3 x 10(6) with increasing doses of erythromycin. Intrapulmonary bactericidal activity against S. aureus was not impaired by erythromycin.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count / drug effects
  • Chemotaxis, Leukocyte / drug effects
  • Erythromycin / blood
  • Erythromycin / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / immunology
  • Mice
  • Neutrophils / drug effects*
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Nitroblue Tetrazolium
  • Opportunistic Infections / etiology*
  • Pneumonia / etiology
  • Pneumonia / immunology*
  • Proteus mirabilis / immunology
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology


  • Nitroblue Tetrazolium
  • Erythromycin