Bromocriptine in rheumatic and autoimmune diseases

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Aug;31(1):21-32. doi: 10.1053/sarh.2001.25482.


Background and objectives: Multiple lines of evidence support the concept that the anterior pituitary hormone prolactin has a pathogenic role in rheumatic and autoimmune diseases including, but not limited to, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Reiter's syndrome, psoriatic arthritis, and uveitis. Conversely, the dopaminergic agonist bromocriptine appears to have therapeutic effects through suppression of pituitary prolactin secretion and, perhaps, through actions on peripheral dopamine receptors. This article reviews the experimental and clinical data supporting the therapeutic use of bromocriptine as a nonstandard or adjunctive therapy in rheumatic and autoimmune diseases.

Methods: Data addressing the potential therapeutic role of bromocriptine in rheumatic and autoimmune diseases, as well as frequently associated comorbidities, was accumulated from the author's work, online literature search of the National Library of Medicine, and references from these identified publications.

Results: There have been a number of clinical therapeutic trials using 2.5 to 30 mg of bromocriptine per day in a single or divided dose, which have shown efficacy with minimal side effects in the treatment of rheumatic and autoimmune diseases. In RA, bromocriptine administration has induced immunosuppression of several immune parameters and has been associated with improvements in morning stiffness, grip strength, numbers of swollen/painful joints, and the Health Assessment Questionnaire disability index. In two blinded studies, bromocriptine reduced the number of SLE flares and was as effective as hydroxychloroquine in reducing lupus disease activity indices, respectively. In case reports, bromocriptine has been used successfully in the treatment of Reiter's syndrome enthesopathy and psoriatic arthritis. The potential efficacy of bromocriptine in the treatment of uveitis and multiple sclerosis is suggested but remains to be verified.

Conclusions: Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are limited, but clinical observations and trials support the use of bromocriptine as a nonstandard primary or adjunctive therapy in the treatment of recalcitrant RA, SLE, Reiter's syndrome, and psoriatic arthritis and associated conditions unresponsive to traditional approaches. Additional investigation is needed to verify this conclusion and extend preliminary results.

Relevance: In patients with rheumatic and autoimmune diseases, bromocriptine may be a relatively safe and efficacious alternative therapy. Semin Arthritis Rheum 31:21-32.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / blood
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Bromocriptine / pharmacology
  • Bromocriptine / therapeutic use*
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Prolactin / blood
  • Rheumatic Diseases / blood
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Bromocriptine
  • Prolactin