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J Clin Invest. 1985 Nov;76(5):1755-64.

Therapeutic concentrations of glucocorticoids suppress the antimicrobial activity of human macrophages without impairing their responsiveness to gamma interferon.


By exposing human blood-derived macrophages and alveolar macrophages in vitro to dexamethasone, we showed in these studies that glucocorticoids markedly suppress the antimicrobial activity of macrophages but not macrophage activation by lymphokines. As little as 2.5 X 10(-8) mol/liter of dexamethasone prevented macrophages from inhibiting germination of Aspergillus spores or from eliminating ingested bacteria such as Listeria, Nocardia, or Salmonella. Damage to macrophage function was inhibited by progesterone and appeared to be receptor-mediated. In accordance with in vivo observations, dexamethasone required 24-36 h to suppress antimicrobial activity. While glucocorticoids interfered with base-line activity of macrophages, dexamethasone concentrations comparable to drug levels in patients had no effect on macrophage activation. Proliferating lymphocytes and gamma-interferon thus increased the antimicrobial activity of phagocytes exposed to glucocorticoids over that of control cells. Macrophage activation and correction of the dexamethasone effect by gamma-interferon, however, was dependent on the pathogen. The lymphokine enhanced the antimicrobial activity of dexamethasone-treated macrophages against Listeria and Salmonella but not against Aspergillus or Nocardia. Dexamethasone-induced damage to the antimicrobial activity of human macrophages in vitro parallels observations that glucocorticoids render laboratory animals susceptible to listeriosis and aspergillosis by damaging resident macrophages. Suppression of macrophage antimicrobial activity should thus be considered when treating patients with glucocorticoids; its prevention by gamma-interferon might be beneficial for some but not all pathogens.

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