The impact of long-term macrolide exposure on the gut microbiome and Its implications for metabolic control

Jocelyn M. Choo, Alyce M. Martin, Steven L. Taylor, Emily Sun, Fredrick M. Mobegi, Tokuwa Kanno, Alyson Richard, Lucy D. Burr, Stevie Lingman, Megan Martin, Damien J. Keating, A. James Mason, Geraint B. Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Long-term low-dose macrolide therapy is now widely used in the treatment of chronic respiratory diseases for its immune-modulating effects, although the antimicrobial properties of macrolides can also have collateral impacts on the gut microbiome. We investigated whether such treatment altered intestinal commensal microbiology and whether any such changes affected systemic immune and metabolic regulation. In healthy adults exposed to 4 weeks of low-dose erythromycin or azithromycin, as used clinically, we observed consistent shifts in gut microbiome composition, with a reduction in microbial capacity related to carbohydrate metabolism and short-chain fatty acid biosynthesis. These changes were accompanied by alterations in systemic biomarkers relating to immune (interleukin 5 [IL-5], IL-10, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 [MCP-1]) and metabolic (serotonin [5-HT], C-peptide) homeostasis. Transplantation of erythromycin-exposed murine microbiota into germ-free mice demonstrated that changes in metabolic homeostasis and gastrointestinal motility, but not systemic immune regulation, resulted from changes in intestinal microbiology caused by macrolide treatment. Our findings highlight the potential for long-term low-dose macrolide therapy to influence host physiology via alteration of the gut microbiome. IMPORTANCE Long-term macrolide therapy is widely used in chronic respiratory diseases although its antibacterial activity can also affect the gut microbiota, a key regulator of host physiology. Macrolide-associated studies on the gut microbiota have been limited to short antibiotic courses and have not examined its consequences for host immune and metabolic regulation. This study revealed that long-term macrolides depleted keystone bacteria and impacted host regulation, mediated directly by macrolide activity or indirectly by alterations to the gut microbiota. Understanding these macrolide-associated mechanisms will contribute to identifying the risk of long-term exposure and highlights the importance of targeted therapy for maintenance of the gut microbiota.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0083123
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number4
Early online date22 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 17 Aug 2023


  • azithromycin
  • erythromycin
  • gnotobiotic model
  • gut microbiome
  • immunoregulation
  • metabolic health
  • murine antibiotic model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases

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