Low-dose theophylline modulates T-lymphocyte activation in allergen-challenged asthmatics

Z. H. Jaffar, P. Sullivan, C. Page, J. Costello

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Theophylline has been shown by several investigators to attenuate the late asthmatic response (LAR) to inhaled allergen, suggesting that it has antiinflammatory or immunomodulatory properties. We have, therefore, undertaken a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to examine the effects of low-dose theophylline on bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and blood T-lymphocyte profile and activation in asthmatics following antigen challenge and the development of a LAR. Peripheral blood and BAL samples were obtained from 17 subjects with mild atopic asthma before and after 6 weeks of treatment with either oral theophylline or placebo. The mean serum theophylline concentration achieved was 6.6 μg · mL-1, which is below the currently accepted therapeutic range. Following theophylline therapy, there was a significant decrease in the number of BAL lymphocytes compared to placebo. On flow cytometric analysis of BAL cells, a significant loss of CD3+ T-lymphocytes, comprising both CD4+ and CD8+ subsets, was demonstrated. Moreover, there was a decrease in the number of BAL CD4+ T-cells expressing the activation marker very late activation antigen-1 (VLA-1), and an apparent reduction in human leucocyte antigen-DR (HLA-DR). Correspondingly, this was accompanied in the blood by an elevation in the proportion of activated CD4+ T-lymphocytes, in particular those expressing HLA-DR. These findings provide further evidence that theophylline has an anti-inflammatory action in asthma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-462
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1996


  • T-lymphocytes
  • asthma
  • bronchoalveolar lavage
  • immunomodulation
  • theophylline


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