Nonantimicrobial actions of macrolides: Overview and perspectives for future development

Jennifer A. Kricker*, Clive P. Page, Fridrik Runar Gardarsson, Olafur Baldursson, Thorarinn Gudjonsson, Michael J. Parnham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Macrolides are among the most widely prescribed broad spectrum antibacterials, particu-larly for respiratory infections. It is now recognized that these drugs, in particular azithromycin, also exert time-dependent immunomodulatory actions that contribute to their therapeutic benefit in both infectious and other chronic inflammatory diseases. Their increased chronic use in airway inflammation and, more recently, of azithromycin in COVID-19, how-ever, has led to a rise in bacterial resistance. An addi-tional crucial aspect of chronic airway inflammation, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as other inflammatory disorders, is the loss of epithelial barrier protection against pathogens and pol-lutants. In recent years, azithromycin has been shown with time to enhance the barrier properties of airway epithelial cells, an action that makes an important contribution to its therapeutic efficacy. In this article, we review the background and evidence for various immunomodulatory and time-dependent actions of macrolides on inflammatory processes and on the epithelium and highlight novel nonantibacterial mac-rolides that are being studied for immunomodulatory and barrier-strengthening properties to circumvent the risk of bacterial resistance that occurs with macro-lide antibacterials. We also briefly review the clinical effects of macrolides in respiratory and other inflammatory diseases associated with epithelial injury and propose that the beneficial epithelial effects of nonan-tibacterial azithromycin derivatives in chronic inflammation, even given prophylactically, are likely to gain increasing attention in the future. Significance Statement——Based on its immuno-modulatory properties and ability to enhance the protective role of the lung epithelium against pathogens, azithromycin has proven superior to other macrolides in treating chronic respiratory inflammation. A non-antibiotic azithromycin derivative is likely to offer prophylactic benefits against inflammation and epithelial damage of differing causes while preserving the use of macrolides as antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-262
Number of pages30
JournalPharmacological Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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