Macrolides may influence the inflammatory response to an infection by mechanisms that are unrelated to their antimicrobial effect. Indeed, erythromycin and other macrolides inhibit cytokine production and induce degranulation of neutrophils in vitro. CXC chemokines are small chemotactic cytokines that specifically influence neutrophil functions. To determine the effect of a clinically relevant dose of erythromycin on the production of CXC chemokines and neutrophil degranulation, six healthy humans received a 30 min iv infusion of erythromycin (1000 mg). Whole blood obtained before and at various times after the infusion was stimulated ex vivo with heat-killed Streptococcus pneumoniae. Ex vivo production of the CXC chemokines interleukin 8 (IL-8) and epithelial cell-derived neutrophil attractant 78 (ENA-78), in whole blood obtained after erythromycin infusion, was lower than that in blood drawn before erythromycin infusion (maximum inhibition post-infusion: 32.9 +/- 6.5% and 35.2 +/- 12.6% decrease in production, respectively, expressed as percentage change relative to production before infusion of erythromycin, both P <0.05). In contrast, infusion of erythromycin was associated with an enhanced capacity of whole blood to release the neutrophil degranulation products bactericidal/permeability increasing protein (BPI), human neutrophil elastase (HNE) and human lactoferrin (HLF) upon stimulation with S. pneumoniae. Effects of erythromycin were greatest 4 h after infusion was stopped, when BPI, HNE and HLF concentrations were increased by +107.6 +/- 33.5%, +134.7 +/- 34.8% and +205.9 +/- 55.9%, respectively (expressed as percentage change relative to production before infusion of erythromycin) (all P <0.05). These results indicate the ability of erythromycin to reduce CXC chemokine production and to enhance neutrophil degranulation in human blood.