Effects of treatment with formoterol on bronchoprotection against methacholine

Am J Med. 1998 May;104(5):431-8. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(98)00086-2.


Purpose: In addition to their bronchodilatory effects, beta(2)-agonists protect against bronchoconstriction, such as that caused by methacholine challenge. However, tachyphylaxis to this beneficial effect develops after chronic use of beta(2)-agonists. We studied whether the frequency or dose of treatment with a long-acting beta(2)-agonist (formoterol) affects the degree of bronchoprotection afforded against methacholine challenge and to compare this with the effects of a short-acting beta(2)-agonist (terbutaline).

Patients and methods: In a randomized, parallel group, double-blind study at two centers, patients with stable asthma of mild to moderate severity who were treated with inhaled corticosteroids were treated with formoterol 6 micrograms twice daily, 24 micrograms twice daily, 12 micrograms once daily; terbutaline 500 micrograms four times daily; or placebo. Treatments were given by dry powder inhaler for a period of 2 weeks. Of the 72 patients who were enrolled, 67 completed the study. Methacholine challenge was performed to calculate the provocative dose that caused a 20% fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 second at baseline (unprotected) after an initial 1-week run-in without beta(2)-agonists, 1 hour after the first dose of study treatment, and again 1 hour after 7 and 14 days of study treatment.

Results: Each of the four active treatments exhibited significant tachyphylaxis (P < 0.05) to protection against methacholine challenge when comparing first/last dose (as geometric mean protection ratio versus baseline): formoterol 24 micrograms twice daily (9.6-fold/1.6-fold), 12 micrograms once daily (7.1-fold/2.2-fold), 6 micrograms twice daily (6.2-fold/2.3-fold), and terbutaline 500 micrograms four times daily (2.9-fold/2.0-fold). There were no significant differences among treatments after 2 weeks in bronchoprotection against methacholine challenge. For all formoterol regimens, the bronchodilator response 1 hour after inhalation was maintained over the 2-week treatment period. Diurnal control of morning and evening peak flow was significantly better with formoterol 24 micrograms twice daily than with terbutaline.

Conclusions: Tachyphylaxis to bronchoprotection against methacholine challenge develops after 2 weeks of therapy with formoterol, a long-acting beta(2)-agonist, at all three dosage regimens that were tested. In contrast, the bronchodilator effects of formoterol were maintained during the 2 weeks of treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Ethanolamines / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Formoterol Fumarate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methacholine Chloride*
  • Middle Aged
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate / drug effects
  • Steroids
  • Terbutaline / therapeutic use*
  • Time Factors


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ethanolamines
  • Steroids
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Terbutaline
  • Formoterol Fumarate