The Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Macrolide Antibiotics in Chronic Rhinosinusitis

Thumbnail Image
File version
Primary Supervisor

Mackay-Sim, Alan

Other Supervisors

Cervin, Anders

Coman, Bill

File type(s)

Chronic rhinosinusitis is a common disorder of chronic inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. It is associated with significant symptoms and impairment of the quality of life of sufferers. Despite recent advances in the medical and surgical management of chronic rhinosinusitis, there remains a population of patients who fail to obtain relief from their symptoms. Chronic inflammation of the mucosa of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses is one of the hallmarks of chronic rhinosinusitis. This inflammation is demonstrated by an increased number of chronic inflammatory cells, elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, increased expression of adhesion molecules and metaplastic changes in the epithelium. The current medical treatments for chronic sinusitis aim to reduce this inflammation and consequently improve symptoms. In recent years, evidence has emerged that macrolide antibiotics have an anti-inflammatory effect that is separate from their anti-bacterial effect. This effect was first described in the treatment of diffuse panbronchiolitis, a disorder of chronic inflammation of the lower respiratory tract. Following the success of macrolides in treating this condition it was trialed in chronic rhinosinusitis. Several open-label trials have subsequently demonstrated a beneficial effect. Laboratory studies have investigated the mechanism of the anti-inflammatory effect of macrolides. These have shown that macrolides effect cytokine production, inflammatory cell apoptosis, expression of adhesion molecules, neutrophil oxidative burst, bacterial virulence and mucociliary function. In this thesis we report a series of experiments designed to further investigate the mechanism of action and clinical effect of macrolides. In vitro studies using whole sections of chronic rhinosinusitis mucosa cultured for 24 hours in macrolide, prednisolone or control showed that macrolide and prednisolone produced significant reductions in the production of interleukin-5, interleukin-8 and granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor. The same cultured specimens also showed a reduction in expression of transforming growth factor-?. No reduction was seen in the expression of the key pro-inflammatory nuclear transcription factor Nuclear factor-?B. In our in vivo experiments, biopsies were taken from chronic rhinosinusitis patients who had received a 3-month course of macrolide. These biopsies showed a reduction in the number of neutrophils present following treatment. There was no reduction in the number of other inflammatory cells or in the expression of TGF-? and NK-?B. We have performed the first ever double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of macrolide in the treatment of chronic rhinosinusitis. Patients receiving macrolide showed significant improvements in saccharine transit time, nasal endoscopic scoring and symptom scores following a 12 week course. Patients with low levels of serum immunoglobulin E showed significantly improved outcomes compared to those with high levels. Interleukin-8 levels in nasal lavage fluid were significantly reduced in the patients with low levels of IgE following macrolide treatment. No improvements in any of the objective or subjective outcome measures were seen in the placebo-treated patients. We have performed a series of experiments investigating the anti-inflammatory effect of macrolide antibiotics from 'the bench to the bedside'. These experiments have provided insight into the mechanism of action of macrolides in the laboratory setting and evidence of a beneficial effect in the treatment of chronic rhinosinusitis patients.

Journal Title
Conference Title
Book Title
Thesis Type

Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

Degree Program

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Sciences

Publisher link
Patent number
Grant identifier(s)
Rights Statement
Rights Statement

The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

Item Access Status


Access the data
Related item(s)


upper respiratory tract

paranasal sinuses

macrolide antbiotics

Persistent link to this record