Asthmatic patients receiving ICSs (inhaled corticosteroids) may take frequent add-on therapy with salbutamol despite on-demand prescription. Frequent salbutamol use can be detrimental in asthma. The isomeric formulation of salbutamol and the B2ADR (β2 adrenoceptor) 16 genotype may also influence this phenomenon. We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, triple crossover, proof of concept trial comparing 2 weeks of regular therapy with inhaled racemic salbutamol [200 μg q.i.d. (four times daily)], levosalbutamol (100 μg q.i.d.) or placebo on trough methacholine PC20 [provocative concentration causing 20% fall in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in 1 s)] 6 h post-dose (the primary outcome) in 30 persistent asthmatic patients (15 who were Arg16 homozygous and 15 who were Gly16 homozygous) all receiving ICSs. There was no worsening of AHR (airway hyper-responsiveness) at trough to methacholine after 2 weeks regular exposure to either racemic (P=0.53) or levosalbutamol (P=0.84) compared with placebo, nor between genotypes–as dd (doubling dilution) difference in methacholine PC20 from placebo [salbutamol/Arg16=0.36 dd [95% CI (confidence interval), −0.43, 1.15]; salbutamol/Gly16=0.01 dd (95% CI, −0.47, 0.49); levosalbutamol/Arg16=−0.01 dd (95% CI, −0.89, 0.87); and levosalbutamol/Gly16=0.28 dd (95% CI, −0.22, 0.77)]. Both active treatments improved morning PEF (peak expiratory flow) in Gly16 (P=0.04 overall) but not Arg16 (P=0.50 overall) patients, whereas evening PEF improved in both Gly16 (P<0.001 overall) and Arg16 (P=0.006 overall) patients. In conclusion, the regular exposure to either racemic or levosalbutamol for 2 weeks added to ICSs did not cause worsening of AHR at trough compared with placebo; with no difference seen between B2ADR 16 genotypes.

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