Azithromycin (AZM) ameliorates lung function in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. This macrolide has been suggested to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as other effects potentially relevant for therapy of CF. In this study, we utilized three CF (IB3-1, 16HBE14o- AS3, and 2CFSMEo-) and two isogenic non-CF (C38 and 16HBE14o- S1) airway epithelial cell lines to investigate whether AZM could reduce tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) mRNA and protein levels by real-time quantitative PCR analysis and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), respectively. We studied the effects on the DNA binding of NF-kappaB and specificity protein 1 (Sp1) by an ELISA. Non-CF cells express significantly lower TNF-alpha mRNA and protein levels than an isogenic CF cell line. In CF cells, AZM treatment causes a 30% reduction of TNF-alpha mRNA levels (P < 0.05) and a 45% decrease in TNF-alpha secretion (P < 0.05), reaching approximately the levels of the untreated isogenic non-CF cells. In CF cells, NF-kappaB and Sp1 DNA binding activities were also significantly decreased (about 45 and 60%, respectively; P < 0.05) after AZM treatment. Josamycin, a macrolide lacking clinically described anti-inflammatory effects, was ineffective. Finally, AZM did not alter the mRNA expression levels of interleukin-6, a proinflammatory molecule not differentially expressed in CF and isogenic non-CF cells. The results of our study support the anti-inflammatory activities of this macrolide, since we show that AZM reduced the levels of TNF-alpha and propose inhibitions of NF-kappaB and Sp1 DNA binding as possible mechanisms of this effect.
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