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Allergy. 2001;56 Suppl 66:7-11.

Pathophysiology of the cysteinyl leukotrienes and effects of leukotriene receptor antagonists in asthma.

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Department of Paediatrics, University Hospital of Copenhagen, Cophenhagen, Denmark.


Cysteinyl leukotrienes, synthesized de novo from cell membrane phospholipids, are proinflammatory mediators that play an important role in the pathophysiology of asthma. These mediators are among the most potent of bronchoconstrictors and cause vasodilation, increased microvascular permeability, exudation of macromolecules and edema. The cysteinyl leukotrienes also have potent chemoattractant properties for eosinophils, causing an influx of eosinophils into the airway mucosa, which further fuels the inflammatory process. In addition, the cysteinyl leukotrienes are potent secretagogues and reduce ciliary motility, which may hinder mucociliary clearance. Asthmatic patients demonstrate increased production of cysteinyl leukotrienes during naturally occurring asthma and acute asthma attacks as well as after allergen and exercise challenge. The leukotriene receptor antagonists montelukast, zafirlukast and pranlukast inhibit bronchoconstriction in asthmatic patients undergoing allergen, exercise, cold air or aspirin challenge. They attenuate the hallmarks of asthmatic inflammation, including eosinophilia in the airway mucosa and peripheral blood. Moreover, exhaled nitric oxide concentrations, another correlate of airway inflammation, are decreased during montelukast treatment in children. Cysteinyl leukotriene synthesis is not blocked by corticosteroid therapy. This important observation suggests that the leukotriene receptor antagonists represent a novel therapeutic approach, one that may provide benefits that are additive with corticosteroid therapy. This supposition is supported by clinical observations that treatment with leukotriene receptor antagonists significantly improve asthma control when added to inhaled corticosteroid therapy. Moreover, the bronchodilator properties of the leukotriene receptor antagonists are additive with those of beta agonists. These data provide strong support for the use of leukotriene receptor antagonists for treating asthma.

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