Bronchodilators in Tobacco-Exposed Persons with Symptoms and Preserved Lung Function

N Engl J Med. 2022 Sep 29;387(13):1173-1184. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2204752. Epub 2022 Sep 4.


Background: Many persons with a history of smoking tobacco have clinically significant respiratory symptoms despite an absence of airflow obstruction as assessed by spirometry. They are often treated with medications for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but supporting evidence for this treatment is lacking.

Methods: We randomly assigned persons who had a tobacco-smoking history of at least 10 pack-years, respiratory symptoms as defined by a COPD Assessment Test score of at least 10 (scores range from 0 to 40, with higher scores indicating worse symptoms), and preserved lung function on spirometry (ratio of forced expiratory volume in 1 second [FEV1] to forced vital capacity [FVC] ≥0.70 and FVC ≥70% of the predicted value after bronchodilator use) to receive either indacaterol (27.5 μg) plus glycopyrrolate (15.6 μg) or placebo twice daily for 12 weeks. The primary outcome was at least a 4-point decrease (i.e., improvement) in the St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) score (scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating worse health status) after 12 weeks without treatment failure (defined as an increase in lower respiratory symptoms treated with a long-acting inhaled bronchodilator, glucocorticoid, or antibiotic agent).

Results: A total of 535 participants underwent randomization. In the modified intention-to-treat population (471 participants), 128 of 227 participants (56.4%) in the treatment group and 144 of 244 (59.0%) in the placebo group had at least a 4-point decrease in the SGRQ score (difference, -2.6 percentage points; 95% confidence interval [CI], -11.6 to 6.3; adjusted odds ratio, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.60 to 1.37; P = 0.65). The mean change in the percent of predicted FEV1 was 2.48 percentage points (95% CI, 1.49 to 3.47) in the treatment group and -0.09 percentage points (95% CI, -1.06 to 0.89) in the placebo group, and the mean change in the inspiratory capacity was 0.12 liters (95% CI, 0.07 to 0.18) in the treatment group and 0.02 liters (95% CI, -0.03 to 0.08) in the placebo group. Four serious adverse events occurred in the treatment group, and 11 occurred in the placebo group; none were deemed potentially related to the treatment or placebo.

Conclusions: Inhaled dual bronchodilator therapy did not decrease respiratory symptoms in symptomatic, tobacco-exposed persons with preserved lung function as assessed by spirometry. (Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and others; RETHINC number, NCT02867761.).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bronchodilator Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Glycopyrrolate
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Nicotiana / adverse effects
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / etiology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Glycopyrrolate

Associated data