Objective: To determine the effects of methotrexate (MTX) treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients (a) on the circulating levels and (b) on the ex vivo production of matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1) and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-1 (TIMP-1) by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC).
Methods: Circulating levels, spontaneous ex vivo and in vitro production of MMP-1, TIMP-1 and interleukin-6 (IL-6) were assessed by immunoassays in sera and culture supernatants of PBMNC derived from 27 patients with active RA before and 3 months after beginning MTX treatment and from seven healthy subjects. The production and serum levels of MMP-1, TIMP-1 and IL-6 were correlated to the clinical response.
Results: PBMNC of RA patients showing >/= 20% improvement of the Paulus index after 3 months of MTX treatment (responders; n = 16) exhibited a significantly enhanced production of spontaneous TIMP-1 ex vivo which was associated with the enhanced synthesis of IL-6. In contrast, PBMNC of 11 patients with <20% improvement and/or progression of disease showed a marked reduction of TIMP-1 and IL-6 secretion. Circulating levels of TIMP-1 remained unchanged in both groups whereas serum IL-6 levels declined in the responder group. MMP-1 was detectable only in very few culture supernatants and RA sera. Moreover, PBMNC of healthy donors revealed that MTX also stimulated TIMP-1 and IL-6 release in vitro, IL-6 being partially responsible for the induction of TIMP-1 production.
Conclusions: Both ex vivo and in vitro, the enhanced TIMP-1 production by PBMNC of RA patients and healthy individuals upon MTX treatment is associated with simultaneously enhanced IL-6 release, and enhanced ex vivo production of both is clearly associated with short-term clinical efficacy. This may reflect disease remission and favourable effects on host defence mechanisms against aberrant inflammation and extracellular matrix turnover in RA patients undergoing MTX treatment.