Is there a rationale and role for long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators in asthma?

David Price, Leonard Fromer, Alan Kaplan, Thys van der Molen, Miguel Román-Rodríguez

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Despite current guidelines and the range of available treatments, over a half of patients with asthma continue to suffer from poor symptomatic control and remain at risk of future worsening. Although a number of non-pharmacological measures are crucial for good clinical management of asthma, new therapeutic controller medications will have a role in the future management of the disease. Several long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators are under investigation or are available for the treatment of respiratory diseases, including tiotropium bromide, aclidinium bromide, glycopyrronium bromide, glycopyrrolate and umeclidinium bromide, although none is yet licensed for the treatment of asthma. A recent Phase III investigation demonstrated that the once-daily long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilator tiotropium bromide improves lung function and reduces the risk of exacerbation in patients with symptomatic asthma, despite the use of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting β2-agonists (LABAs). This has prompted the question of what the rationale is for long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators in asthma. Bronchial smooth muscle contraction is the primary cause of reversible airway narrowing in asthma, and the baseline level of contraction is predominantly set by the level of 'cholinergic tone'. Patients with asthma have increased bronchial smooth muscle tone and mucus hypersecretion, possibly as a result of elevated cholinergic activity, which anticholinergic compounds are known to reduce. Further, anticholinergic compounds may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, evidence suggests that long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators might offer benefits for the maintenance of asthma control, such as in patients failing to gain control on ICS and a LABA, or those with frequent exacerbations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14023
Journalnpj Primary Care Respiratory Medicine
Early online date17 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

The authors acknowledge the medical writing assistance received from Sam Yarwood, PhD, of Complete HealthVizion, in the form of literature searches and preparation and revision of the draft manuscript.


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