Post-hoc analysis of two phase III clinical studies found that the phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) inhibitor, roflumilast, reduced exacerbation frequency in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who were taking inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) concomitantly, whereas patients not taking ICS derived no such benefit. In contrast, in two different trials also performed in patients with severe COPD, roflumilast reduced exacerbation rates in the absence of ICS, indicating that PDE4 inhibition alone is sufficient for therapeutic activity to be realized. Given that roflumilast is recommended as an "add-on" medication to patients with severe disease who will inevitably be taking a long-acting ß2-adrenoceptor agonist (LABA)/ICS combination therapy, we tested the hypothesis that roflumilast augments the ability of glucocorticoids to induce genes with anti-inflammatory activity. Using a glucocorticoid response element (GRE) luciferase reporter transfected into human airway epithelial cells [both bronchial epithelium + adenovirus 12 - SV40 hybrid (BEAS-2B) cells and primary cultures], roflumilast enhanced fluticasone propionate-induced GRE-dependent transcription. Roflumilast also produced a sinistral displacement of the concentration-response curves that described the augmentation of GRE-dependent transcription by the LABA formoterol. In BEAS-2B cells and primary airway epithelia, roflumilast interacted with formoterol in a positive cooperative manner to enhance the expression of several glucocorticoid-inducible genes that have anti-inflammatory potential. We suggest that the ability of roflumilast and formoterol to interact in this way supports the concept that these drugs together may impart clinical benefit beyond that achievable by an ICS alone, a PDE4 inhibitor alone, or an ICS/LABA combination therapy. Roflumilast may, therefore, be especially effective in patients with severe COPD.