Oral prednisolone suppresses skin inflammation in a healthy volunteer imiquimod challenge model

Front Immunol. 2023 Jul 20:14:1197650. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1197650. eCollection 2023.


Imiquimod (IMQ) is a topical agent that induces local inflammation via the Toll-like receptor 7 pathway. Recently, an IMQ-driven skin inflammation model was developed in healthy volunteers for proof-of-pharmacology trials. The aim of this study was to profile the cellular, biochemical, and clinical effects of the marketed anti-inflammatory compound prednisolone in an IMQ model. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted in 24 healthy volunteers. Oral prednisolone (0.25 mg/kg/dose) or placebo (1:1) was administered twice daily for 6 consecutive days. Two days after treatment initiation with prednisolone or placebo, 5 mg imiquimod (IMQ) once daily for two following days was applied under occlusion on the tape-stripped skin of the back for 48 h in healthy volunteers. Non-invasive (imaging and biophysical) and invasive (skin punch biopsies and blister induction) assessments were performed, as well as IMQ ex vivo stimulation of whole blood. Prednisolone reduced blood perfusion and skin erythema following 48 h of IMQ application (95% CI [-26.4%, -4.3%], p = 0.0111 and 95% CI [-7.96, -2.13], p = 0.0016). Oral prednisolone suppressed the IMQ-elevated total cell count (95% CI [-79.7%, -16.3%], p = 0.0165), NK and dendritic cells (95% CI [-68.7%, -5.2%], p = 0.0333, 95% CI [-76.9%, -13.9%], p = 0.0184), and classical monocytes (95% CI [-76.7%, -26.6%], p = 0.0043) in blister fluid. Notably, TNF, IL-6, IL-8, and Mx-A responses in blister exudate were also reduced by prednisolone compared to placebo. Oral prednisolone suppresses IMQ-induced skin inflammation, which underlines the value of this cutaneous challenge model in clinical pharmacology studies of novel anti-inflammatory compounds. In these studies, prednisolone can be used as a benchmark.

Keywords: TLR7; corticosteroids; healthy volunteer; imiquimod; inflammatory model.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blister*
  • Dermatitis*
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Imiquimod / pharmacology
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Prednisolone / pharmacology
  • Prednisolone / therapeutic use


  • Imiquimod
  • Prednisolone
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the Centre for Human Drug Research, Leiden, The Netherlands.