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August 2014 Phoenix Pulmonary Journal Club: The Use of Macrolide Antibiotics in Chronic Respiratory Disease

This month's journal club reviewed  the role of macrolide antibiotics in chronic respiratory disease. Macrolide usage was suggested from observational studies in Japan in diffuse panbroncholitis, a disorder associated with chronic respiratory infection, usually Pseudomonas aeruginosa (1). Clinical improvement was noted despite doses of antibiotics well below the minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of the antibiotic. This  suggested the antibiotic was likely working by an anti-inflammatory effect. These observations were extended to cystic fibrosis (CF) where prophylactic macrolide therapy in CF patients infected with Pseudomonas has become standard therapy (2). More recently, low dose macrolide therapy has been applied to non-CF lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis and asthma.

Time did not permit a review of all studies so a representative sample was discussed. In patients with COPD, the four randomized, placebo-controlled trials reviewed all suggested that chronic therapy with macrolide antibiotics reduced COPD exacerbations (3-5). This beneficial effect was confirmed by 2 recent meta-analysis (6,7). Similarly,  three recent randomized trials in bronchiectasis demonstrated a reduction in exacerbations (8-10). In asthma the data is not as clear. A recent trial did not demonstrate an overall reduction in asthma exacerbations or lower respiratory tract infections (11). However, in the patients with non-eosinophilic, predominantly neutrophilic, asthma there was a reduction.  An excellent review of the use of macrolides in acute and chronic asthma was recently published. (12). The article includes a review of the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of the macrolides.

The respiratory disorders where macrolides have been shown to have clinic benefit such as diffuse panbroncholitis, cystic fibrosis, COPD, bronchiectasis and non-eosinophilic asthma are all diseases associated an influx of neutrophils into the airways. The beneficial clinic effects of macrolides are consistent with their effect in reducing neutrophil chemotactic factors such as interleukin (IL)-8 (13). However, macrolides have also been reported to have adverse clinical effects such as QT prolongation in patients with heart disease, impaired hearing and development of bacterial resistance (4,6,14). Whether all COPD patients should be treated with macrolides is controversial but most in the audience used these in patients with frequent exacerbations. It was also pointed out that other antibiotics such as the tetracyclines also have anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to be efficacious in some respiratory diseases (15). Whether the tetracyclines are equally or more effective than the macrolides with fewer serious side effects is unknown.

Richard A. Robbins, MD1

Allen R. Thomas, MD2

Manoj Mathew, MD3

1Phoenix Pulmonary and Critical Care Research Foundation, 2Phoenix VA Medical Center, 3Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.


  1. Nagai H, Shishido H, Yoneda R, Yamaguchi E, Tamura A, Kurashima A. Long-term low-dose administration of erythromycin to patients with diffuse panbronchiolitis. Respiration. 1991;58(3-4):145-9. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  2. Saiman L, Marshall BC, Mayer-Hamblett N, Burns JL, Quittner AL, Cibene DA, Coquillette S, Fieberg AY, Accurso FJ, Campbell PW 3rd; Macrolide Study Group. Azithromycin in patients with cystic fibrosis chronically infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2003;290(13):1749-56. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. Seemungal TA, Wilkinson TM, Hurst JR, Perera WR, Sapsford RJ, Wedzicha JA. Long-term erythromycin therapy is associated with decreased chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008;178(11):1139-47. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  4. Albert RK, Connett J, Bailey WC, Casaburi R, Cooper JA Jr, Criner GJ, Curtis JL, Dransfield MT, Han MK, Lazarus SC, Make B, Marchetti N, Martinez FJ, Madinger NE, McEvoy C, Niewoehner DE, Porsasz J, Price CS, Reilly J, Scanlon PD, Sciurba FC, Scharf SM, Washko GR, Woodruff PG, Anthonisen NR; COPD Clinical Research Network. Azithromycin for prevention of exacerbations of COPD. N Engl J Med. 2011;365(8):689-98. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Uzun S, Djamin RS, Kluytmans JA, Mulder PG, van't Veer NE, Ermens AA, Pelle AJ, Hoogsteden HC, Aerts JG, van der Eerden MM. Azithromycin maintenance treatment in patients with frequent exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COLUMBUS): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Respir Med. 2014;2(5):361-8. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Li H, Liu DH, Chen LL, Zhao Q, Yu YZ, Ding JJ, Miao LY, Xiao YL, Cai HR, Zhang DP, Guo YB, Xie CM. Meta-analysis of the adverse effects of long-term azithromycin use in patients with chronic lung diseases. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2014;58(1):511-7. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  7. Herath SC, Poole P. Prophylactic antibiotic therapy in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. JAMA. 2014;311(21):2225-6. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  8. Wong C, Jayaram L, Karalus N, Eaton T, Tong C, Hockey H, Milne D, Fergusson W, Tuffery C, Sexton P, Storey L, Ashton T. Azithromycin for prevention of exacerbations in non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis (EMBRACE): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2012;380(9842):660-7. [CrossRef]  [PubMed]
  9. Altenburg J, de Graaff CS, Stienstra Y, Sloos JH, van Haren EH, Koppers RJ, van der Werf TS, Boersma WG. Effect of azithromycin maintenance treatment on infectious exacerbations among patients with non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis: the BAT randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2013;309(12):1251-9. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  10. Serisier DJ, Martin ML, McGuckin MA, Lourie R, Chen AC, Brain B, Biga S, Schlebusch S, Dash P, Bowler SD. Effect of long-term, low-dose erythromycin on pulmonary exacerbations among patients with non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis: the BLESS randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2013;309(12):1260-7. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Brusselle GG, Vanderstichele C, Jordens P, Deman R, Slabbynck H, Ringoet V, Verleden G, Demedts IK, Verhamme K, Delporte A, Demeyere B, Claeys G, Boelens J, Padalko E, Verschakelen J, Van Maele G, Deschepper E, Joos GF. Azithromycin for prevention of exacerbations in severe asthma (AZISAST): a multicentre randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Thorax. 2013 Apr;68(4):322-9. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  12. Wong EH, Porter JD, Edwards MR, Johnston SL. The role of macrolides in asthma: current evidence and future directions.  Lancet Respir Med. 2014 2:657-70. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  13. Abe S, Nakamura H, Inoue S, Takeda H, Saito H, Kato S, Mukaida N, Matsushima K, Tomoike H. Interleukin-8 gene repression by clarithromycin is mediated by the activator protein-1 binding site in human bronchial epithelial cells. Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2000;22(1):51-60. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  14. Albert RK, Schuller JL; COPD Clinical Research Network. Macrolide antibiotics and the risk of cardiac arrhythmias. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014;189(10):1173-80. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  15. Rempe S, Hayden JM, Robbins RA, Hoyt JC. Tetracyclines and pulmonary inflammation. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2007;7(4):232-6. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 

Reference as: Robbins RA, Thomas AR, Mathew M. August 2014 Phoenix pulmonary journal club: the use of macrolide antibiotics in chronic respiratory disease. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;9(2):130-2. doi: PDF

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