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Original article
Macrolide therapy suppresses key features of experimental steroid-sensitive and steroid-insensitive asthma
  1. Ama-Tawiah Essilfie,
  2. Jay C Horvat,
  3. Richard Y Kim,
  4. Jemma R Mayall,
  5. James W Pinkerton,
  6. Emma L Beckett,
  7. Malcolm R Starkey,
  8. Jodie L Simpson,
  9. Paul S Foster,
  10. Peter G Gibson,
  11. Philip M Hansbro
  1. Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Disease and Hunter Medical Research Institute, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Philip M Hansbro, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Kookaburra Circuit, New Lambton Heights, Newcastle, NSW 2315, Australia; Philip.Hansbro{at}


Background Steroid-insensitive endotypes of asthma are an important clinical problem and effective therapies are required. They are associated with bacterial infection and non-eosinophilic inflammatory responses in the asthmatic lung. Macrolide therapy is effective in steroid-insensitive endotypes, such as non-eosinophilic asthma. However, whether the effects of macrolides are due to antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory mechanisms is not known.

Objective To determine and assess the efficacy of macrolide (ie, clarithromycin) and non-macrolide (ie, amoxicillin) antibiotic treatments in experimental models of infection-induced, severe, steroid-insensitive neutrophilic allergic airways disease (SSIAAD), compared with steroid-sensitive AAD and to delineate the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects of macrolide therapy.

Methods We developed and used novel mouse models of Chlamydia and Haemophilus lung infection-induced SSIAAD. We used these models to investigate the effects of clarithromycin and amoxicillin treatment on immune responses and airways hyper-responsiveness (AHR) in Ova-induced, T helper lymphocyte (Th) 2 -associated steroid-sensitive AAD and infection-induced Th1/Th17-associated SSIAAD compared with dexamethasone treatment.

Results Clarithromycin and amoxicillin had similar antimicrobial effects on infection. Amoxicillin did attenuate some features, but did not broadly suppress either form of AAD. It did restore steroid sensitivity in SSIAAD by reducing infection. In contrast, clarithromycin alone widely suppressed inflammation and AHR in both steroid-sensitive AAD and SSIAAD. This occurred through reductions in Th2 responses that drive steroid-sensitive eosinophilic AAD and tumour necrosis factor α and interleukin 17 responses that induce SSIAAD.

Conclusions Macrolides have broad anti-inflammatory effects in AAD that are likely independent of their antimicrobial effects. The specific responses that are suppressed are dependent upon the responses that dominate during AAD.

  • Asthma
  • Respiratory Infection
  • Allergic lung disease
  • Bacterial Infection

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