Glucocorticoid resistant asthma: T-lymphocyte steroid metabolism and sensitivity to glucocorticoids and immunosuppressive agents

Eur Respir J. 1996 Oct;9(10):2077-86. doi: 10.1183/09031936.96.09102077.


We have previously shown that T-lymphocytes from clinically glucocorticoid (GC) resistant asthmatics are more refractory to dexamethasone suppression in vitro than those of GC sensitive asthmatics. We wished to extend these observations to compare three GCs used topically for asthma therapy (budesonide, beclomethasone dipropionate and fluticasone 17 alpha-propionate) and three immunosuppressive drugs (cyclosporin A, FK506 (tacrolimus) and mycophenolate mofetil) with dexamethasone for their antiproliferative effects on T-lymphocytes from GC sensitive and resistant asthmatics, and also to compare the rates of steroid metabolism by T-lymphocytes from these patients. Antiproliferative activity of the drugs was measured on peripheral blood T-lymphocytes activated with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) and anti-CD3 antibody in vitro. The rates of total steroid metabolism and 20 alpha-hydroxylation by T-cell homogenates were measured using radiolabelled progesterone as an established probe substrate. Over a wide concentration range, T-lymphocytes from GC resistant asthmatics were significantly less inhibited by all four GCs as compared with cells from GC sensitive asthmatics. The median inhibitory concentrations (IC50) for inhibition of T-lymphocytes from the GC resistant asthmatics exceeded those likely to be achieved therapeutically by systemic administration (although higher concentrations might in theory be achieved locally in the bronchial mucosa by inhaled administration). In contrast, all three immunosuppressive drugs at putative therapeutic concentrations inhibited T-lymphocytes both from GC sensitive and resistant asthmatics with equivalent potency. The rates of total metabolism and 20 alpha-hydroxylation of steroid by homogenates of T-lymphocytes from GC sensitive and resistant asthmatics were equivalent. Thus, relative GC resistance in T-lymphocytes from GC resistant as compared with sensitive asthmatics is: 1) manifest with GC molecules of variable molecular structure; 2) not accompanied by elevated intracellular metabolism of steroids; and 3) overcome by immunosuppressive drugs which inhibit T-lymphocytes by non-GC-mediated mechanisms. We conclude that current anti-asthma glucocorticoids at therapeutic concentrations are unlikely to be of benefit for the therapy of glucocorticoid resistant asthma, and that other immunosuppressive drugs may have potential as therapeutic agents in these patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Androstadienes / pharmacology
  • Androstadienes / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Beclomethasone / pharmacology
  • Beclomethasone / therapeutic use
  • Budesonide
  • CD3 Complex
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cyclosporine / pharmacology
  • Cyclosporine / therapeutic use
  • Dexamethasone / pharmacology
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance
  • Female
  • Fluticasone
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Humans
  • Hydroxylation
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Structure
  • Mycophenolic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Mycophenolic Acid / pharmacology
  • Mycophenolic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Pregnenediones / pharmacology
  • Pregnenediones / therapeutic use
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacology
  • Tacrolimus / therapeutic use


  • Androstadienes
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • CD3 Complex
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Pregnenediones
  • Budesonide
  • Dexamethasone
  • Cyclosporine
  • Fluticasone
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Beclomethasone
  • Tacrolimus