Theophylline--an immunomodulatory role in asthma?

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1993 Mar;147(3):518-23. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/147.3.518.


Theophylline, a drug used for the treatment of asthma, is recognized as an immunomodulator affecting T-lymphocytes both in vitro and in vivo. The effect of slow-release theophylline (Uniphyllin Continus) on the late asthmatic response (LAR) has been compared with placebo before and after 5 wk of treatment in a double-blind, randomized, parallel group study. Nineteen volunteers with stable mild asthma successfully completed the study. All were dual responders with a documented late response to inhaled house dust mite extract. The LAR was assessed both in terms of changes in lung function and in peripheral blood T-lymphocyte subsets. The mean (SEM) maximal late fall in FEV1 before and after treatment was 28.8 (4.1)% and 7.8 (2.0)% with theophylline, versus 35.8 (5.1)% and 29.1 (5.0)% with placebo (p = 0.046; Cl, 0.3-26.9). Corresponding figures for specific airway conductance (SGaw) were 46.4 (8.4)% and 7.2 (8.0)% with theophylline versus 46.2 (7.2)% and 44.8 (7.7)% with placebo (p = 0.008; Cl, 11.2 to 64.1). This was achieved at a mean (SD) trough serum theophylline level of only 7.8 (3.5) micrograms/ml. Airway responsiveness to methacholine was not significantly changed 24 h after the initial allergen challenge. There was a trend towards a decrease in baseline responsiveness after treatment with theophylline compared with that after placebo (p = 0.07). Studies of peripheral blood lymphocytes showed a modifying effect of treatment on the allergen-induced changes in CD4 and CD8 counts 48 h after challenge. Previous studies have shown a protective effect of theophylline on the LAR at serum theophylline concentrations within the conventional range for bronchodilation.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use*
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Allergens
  • Animals
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Evaluation
  • Dust
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count / drug effects
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Middle Aged
  • Mites / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Theophylline / therapeutic use*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Allergens
  • Delayed-Action Preparations
  • Dust
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Theophylline