Background and Purpose The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects of macrolides include the ability to decrease mucus secretion and inhibit inflammatory mediators in chronic rhinosinusitis. Nevertheless, their mechanisms of action remain to be determined. Here we have investigated the effects of macrolide antibiotics (clarithromycin, azithromycin and josamycin; representating the 14-, 15- and 16-membered macrolides) on endogenous steroids in human sinonasal epithelial cells and mouse nasal mucosa. Experimental Approach The effects of macrolides on the expression of steroid-converting enzymes [11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11β-HSD1 and 11β-HSD2)], steroid-synthesizing enzymes (3β-HSD, CYP21, CYP11B1 and CYP11A1) and cortisol levels were assessed in cultured human epithelial cells. In control and adrenalectomized mice, these enzymes and corticosterone levels were evaluated in nasal mucosa and serum after administration of macrolides. Key Results The expression levels of 3β-HSD, CYP21, 11β-HSD1 and CYP11B1 increased in human epithelial cells treated with clarithromycin and azithromycin, whereas the expression levels of 11β-HSD2 and CYP11A1 were not affected. Josamycin had no effects on the expression of these enzymes. Cortisol levels increased in epithelial cells treated with clarithromycin or azithromycin. The expression of 3β-HSD, CYP11A1, CYP21, CYP11B1 and 11β-HSD1 was upregulated in nasal mucosa of mice treated with clarithromycin or azithromycin, but not in adrenalectomized mice. Conclusions and Implications This study provides evidence that 14- and 15-membered macrolide antibiotics may affect the expression of steroid-synthesizing and steroid-converting enzymes in human sinonasal epithelial cells and mouse nasal mucosa, increasing the endogenous cortisol levels in sinonasal mucosa.
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