Background: Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of unknown cause, characterised by sacroiliitis and spondylitis. Generally, treatment is limited to the alleviation of symptoms using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Recently, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have been used for patients for whom NSAIDs do not work. Methotrexate (MTX), a widely used DMARD, is effective for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and so might work for AS too.
Objectives: To evaluate the efficacy and toxicity of MTX for treating AS.
Search strategy: We conducted searches in any language in: CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library Issue 4, 2005); MEDLINE (1966 to November 20, 2005); EMBASE (1980 to November 20, 2005); CINAHL (1982 to November 20, 2005), and the reference sections of retrieved articles.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials examining the efficacy of MTX versus placebo, other medication, or no medication, for AS.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently assessed unblinded trial reports for inclusion, assessed methodological quality and entered trial data into RevMan 4.2 using the double-entry facility. Disagreements were resolved by a third reviewer. In the absence of significant heterogeneity, results for continuous data were combined using weighted mean difference or standardised mean difference. Relative risk was used for dichotomous data.
Main results: Three trials, involving 116 patients, were included. One 12-month trial compared naproxen plus MTX with naproxen alone. Two 24-week trials compared different doses of MTX with placebo. No statistically significant differences were found for the primary outcome measures of physical function, pain, spinal mobility, peripheral joints/entheses pain, swelling and tenderness, changes in spine radiographs and patient and physician global assessment. Only the response rate in one trial showed a statistically significant benefit of 36% in the MTX group compared to the placebo group (RR 3.18, 95% CI 1.03 to 9.79). This response rate was a composite index that included assessments of morning stiffness, physical well-being, Bath ankylosing spondylitis disease activity index (BASDAI), Bath ankylosing spondylitis functional index (BASFI), health assessment questionnaire for spondyloarthropathies (HAQ-S), and physician and patient global assessment. However, no single outcome showed a statistically significant difference between the MTX and placebo groups when endpoint results were compared. Therefore, this benefit of MTX is questionable. No serious side effects were reported in these trials.
Authors' conclusions: There is not enough evidence to support any benefit of MTX in the treatment of AS. High-quality randomised controlled trials of longer durations and with larger sample sizes are needed to clarify the effect(s) of MTX on AS.