Theophylline: Mechanism of action and use in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Academic Article uri icon

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  • Despite having been recognized for a long time as a cheap and effective therapy for the treatment of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), theophylline is relegated to third-line therapy in the treatment of airway diseases due to the drug's frequent side effects and relatively low efficacy. However, regardless of the current situation, there are reasons for thinking that the use of theophylline, in addition to inhaled steroids, may come back into fashion for the treatment of chronic asthma, as it may have an anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effect when given in low doses. At these low doses, the drug is easier to use, side effects are uncommon and the problems of drug interaction are less of an issue, thus making the clinical use of theophylline less complicated. In COPD, low-dose theophylline is the first drug to demonstrate clear anti-inflammatory effects, and thus it may even have a role in preventing progression of the disease. Furthermore, the reversal of the steroid resistance induced by oxidative stress suggests that theophylline may increase responsiveness to corticosteroids.


  • Hansel, TT
  • Tennant, RC
  • Tan, AJ
  • Higgins, LA
  • Neighbour, Helen
  • Erin, EM
  • Barnes, PJ

publication date

  • 2004