Objective: To investigate whether disease control can be achieved in early active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by treatment with methotrexate and intraarticular betamethasone, and whether the addition of cyclosporine to the regimen has any additional effect.
Methods: Patients (n = 160) were randomized to receive methotrexate 7.5 mg/week plus cyclosporine 2.5 mg/kg of body weight/day (combination therapy) or methotrexate plus placebo-cyclosporine (monotherapy). At weeks 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8 and every 4 weeks thereafter, betamethasone was injected into swollen joints (maximum 4 joints or 4 ml per visit). Beginning at week 8, if synovitis was present, the methotrexate dosage was increased stepwise up to 20 mg/week, with a subsequent stepwise increase in the cyclosporine or placebo-cyclosporine dosage up to 4 mg/kg.
Results: At 52 weeks, 20% improvement according to the American College of Rheumatology criteria (ACR20) was achieved in 85% of the combination therapy group versus 68% of the monotherapy group (P = 0.02). The median individual overall ACR response (ACR-N) in the 2 groups was 80.0% (interquartile range 40.1-91.8%) and 54.5% (interquartile range 2.4-87.8%), respectively (P = 0.025). At 48 and 52 weeks, ACR remission criteria were met in 35% of the combination therapy group and 28% of the monotherapy group. Progression in the Larsen score at 52 weeks was -0.2 +/- 6.5 and 0.4 +/- 6.9 (mean +/- SD) in the combination therapy and monotherapy groups, respectively. Serum creatinine levels increased by 7%, and hypertrichosis was more prevalent, in the combination therapy group.
Conclusion: Combined treatment with methotrexate and intraarticular glucocorticoid showed excellent disease control and stopped the progression of erosions in patients with early active RA, who had a poor prognosis. Addition of cyclosporine improved the ACR20 and ACR-N responses, whereas the ACR50 and ACR70 responses, remission rates, and radiographic changes did not differ between the 2 study groups.