American Journal of Respiratory Medicine

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 235–241

Macrolides in Cystic Fibrosis

Is There a Role?


  • Joanne M. Wolter
    • University Department of MedicineMater Adult Hospital
  • Sharon L. Seeney
    • University Department of MedicineMater Adult Hospital
  • Joseph G. McCormack
    • University Department of MedicineMater Adult Hospital
Current Opinion

DOI: 10.1007/BF03256614

Cite this article as:
Wolter, J.M., Seeney, S.L. & McCormack, J.G. Am J Respir Med (2002) 1: 235. doi:10.1007/BF03256614


A spectrum of anti-inflammatory properties, evidence of anti-infective action against Pseudomonas aeruginosa at sub-inhibitory concentrations and positive clinical experience in patients with diffuse panbronchiolitis, a disease with features in common with cystic fibrosis (CF), has prompted research to evaluate the role of macrolide therapy in patients with CF. Newer macrolides such as azithromycin have the advantage of improved tolerability and a prolonged intracellular half-life requiring an infrequent dosing regimen.

Results from initial studies suggest a benefit from several months of macrolide therapy in patients with CF. An improvement in lung function was initially shown in a small open study in children, while maintenance of lung function compared with placebo, reduced acute respiratory exacerbations, and reduced systemic markers of inflammation were demonstrated in a randomized, placebo-controlled study of macrolide therapy in adult patients with CF.

Additional controlled studies are required to determine optimal drug, dosage, and duration of therapy, and long-term adverse effects of prolonged therapy with macrolides in patients with CF. The potential, with long-term use, to induce resistance against other bacteria colonizing the upper respiratory tract e.g. pneumococci has not been explored.

Measurement of cytokines and inflammatory mediators from the sputum of patients with CF is technically difficult and does not correlate with disease activity. There is a need for easily measurable, reproducible and clinically meaningful end-points for evaluation of new therapies in CF. The choice of appropriate outcome measures, apart from lung function, to monitor disease activity needs careful consideration in clinical trials determining the efficacy of macrolides in patients with CF.

Evidence-based recommendations for the use of macrolides in the treatment of CF are not expected for some years although macrolides are already being prescribed for long-term use in some centers. There is a need for further research into mechanisms of anti-inflammatory action of macrolides in the lungs of patients with CF and whether or not such therapy may be beneficial in the long term.

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© Adis International Limited 2002