Background: Regular treatment with inhaled, long-acting beta2 -agonists is associated with subsensitivity for bronchoprotective effects. It is not known whether a high dose of short-acting beta2 -agonist could overcome this subsensitivity.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to investigate the acute effects of a high dose of inhaled albuterol on methacholine-induced bronchoconstriction in patients receiving regular treatment with salmeterol or formoterol.
Methods: Ten stable asthmatic subjects (mean age, 34 years; FEV1, 77% of predicted value), all taking inhaled corticosteroids (methacholine PD20 < 500 microg), were recruited into a randomized, single-blind, crossover study. After an initial 1-week run-in period, subjects underwent 3 separate treatment periods each of 9 days (separated by a washout of at least 5 days) comprising inhaled placebo twice daily, inhaled salmeterol dry powder 50 microg twice daily, or inhaled formoterol dry powder 12 microg twice daily. Methacholine challenge was performed 1 hour after the first dose and after 7 days of treatment. After 9 days of treatment, a third methacholine challenge was performed 1 hour after inhalation of a single 1600 microg dose of albuterol dry powder.
Results: There was significant (P <.001) improvement in geometric mean PD20 after the first dose of active treatment as compared with placebo (78 microg) versus salmeterol (266 microg, a 3.4-fold difference [95% CI 1.9 to 6.1]) and versus formoterol (318 microg, a 4.1-fold difference [95% CI 2.3 to 7.3]). This bronchoprotection diminished with regular treatment, although it remained significant (P <.01) compared with placebo (68 microg) versus salmeterol (144 microg, a 2.1-fold difference [95% CI 1.2 to 3.8]) and versus formoterol (230 microg, 3.4-fold difference [95% CI 1.9 to 6.2]). After 9 days, the protection afforded by a single dose of albuterol after placebo pretreatment (889 microg) was significantly (P =.005) higher in comparison with albuterol protection after salmeterol pretreatment (338 microg, a 2.7-fold difference [95% CI 1.1 to 6.8]) and after formoterol pretreatment (247 microg, a 3.6-fold difference [95% 1.4 to 9.1]).
Conclusions: Thus in stable asthmatic subjects receiving regular salmeterol or formoterol, bronchoprotective subsensitivity was not overcome by administering a high dose of albuterol. Further studies are required to evaluate the clinical relevance of this pharmacologic phenomenon when albuterol is used in acute asthma.