Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Ahmed Abdel-Latif


Introduction: Myocardial infarction (MI) remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Induced by cardiomyocyte death, MI initiates a prolonged and uncontrolled inflammatory response which impairs the healing process. Immune cells, such as macrophages, play a central role in organizing the early post-MI inflammatory response and the subsequent repair phase. Two activation states of macrophages have been identified with distinct and complementary functions (inflammatory vs. reparatory). This bimodal pattern of macrophage activation is an attractive therapeutic target to favorably resolve post-MI inflammation and enhance recovery. It has been demonstrated that azithromycin (AZM), a commonly used antibiotic with immunomodulatory effects, polarizes macrophages towards the reparatory phenotype. AZM has an excellent safety profile and has been approved for human use. We hypothesize that AZM reduces inflammation and improves heart function in MI.

Methods and results: In our initial studies, we demonstrated that oral free AZM (160 mg/kg daily for 7 days), initiated 3 days prior to MI, enhances post-MI cardiac recovery as a result of shifting macrophages to the reparatory state. We observed a significant reduction in mortality with AZM therapy. AZM-treated mice showed a significant decrease in pro-inflammatory and an increase in reparative macrophages, decreasing the pro-inflammatory/reparative macrophage ratio. Macrophage changes were associated with a significant decline in pro- and an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines. Additionally, AZM treatment was correlated with a distinct decrease in neutrophil count due to apoptosis, a known signal for shifting macrophages towards the reparative phenotype. Finally, AZM treatment improved cardiac recovery, scar size, and angiogenesis. We designed this proof of concept study using pre-MI AZM therapy to achieve steady state levels prior to injury. Therefore, in our follow-up studies we targeted inflammatory macrophages using a non-Pegylated liposomal formulation of AZM (Lazm) which has been shown in multiple studies to promote drug efficacy and minimize off-target effects. To test the hypothesis that Lazm is more effective and safer than free AZM, low doses of free/liposomal AZM (10 or 40 mg/kg, administered intravenously) were initiated immediately after MI. We observed that Lazm induces early resolution of the post-MI inflammatory response as evidenced by switching of the activation state of monocytes/macrophages towards the reparatory phenotype. Neutrophils were substantially decreased, particularly pro-inflammatory neutrophils. Cytokine profiles were also shifted to the anti-inflammatory status with Lazm therapy. Taken together, AZM treatment resulted in a significant shift in macrophage activation towards the reparatory state. The shift in inflammatory state was accompanied by a decrease in apoptosis and infarct size in the injured heart, as well as enhanced angiogenesis and LV functional recovery in our long-term studies. In addition, Lazm was protective against off-target effects of AZM on the heart.

Conclusion: This is the first evidence of a novel and clinically-relevant therapeutic strategy to modulate post-MI inflammation. We found that AZM reduces cardiac inflammation and improves adverse cardiac remodeling after infarction via promoting a shift of macrophage activation state. The overarching significance of this work is the modulation of sterile inflammation, which can be a viable therapeutic target in many conditions including stroke and heart attack. Additionally, this is the first study to demonstrate the immune modulation properties of liposomal AZM, which has wide potential therapeutic applications beyond the cardiovascular field. Importantly, liposomal formulation of AZM is protective from its cardiac off-target effects. Our findings strongly support clinical trials using AZM as a novel and clinically relevant therapeutic target to improve cardiac recovery and reduce heart failure post-MI in humans.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This research was supported by 5R01HL138488-02, University of Kentucky Clinical and Translational Science Pilot Award (UL1TR000117), the UK COBRE Early Career Program (P20 GM103527) and the NIH Grant 1R01 HL131782-01; 5R01HL127682-03.