Objective: To determine whether methotrexate (MTX) can overcome the atherogenic effects of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) inhibitors and interferon-gamma (IFNgamma), both of which suppress cholesterol efflux protein and promote foam cell transformation in human THP-1 monocyte/macrophages.
Methods: Message and protein levels of the reverse cholesterol transport proteins cholesterol 27-hydroxylase and ATP-binding cassette transporter A1 (ABCA1) in THP-1 cells were evaluated by real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunoblot, respectively. Expression was evaluated in cells incubated in the presence or absence of the COX-2 inhibitor NS398 or IFNgamma, with and without MTX. Foam cell transformation of lipid-laden THP-1 macrophages was detected with oil red O staining and light microscopy.
Results: MTX increased 27-hydroxylase message and completely blocked NS398-induced down-regulation of 27-hydroxylase (mean +/- SEM 112.8 +/- 13.1% for NS398 plus MTX versus 71.1 +/- 4.3% for NS398 alone; P < 0.01). MTX also negated COX-2 inhibitor-mediated down-regulation of ABCA1. The ability of MTX to reverse inhibitory effects on 27-hydroxylase and ABCA1 was blocked by the adenosine A2A receptor-specific antagonist ZM241385. MTX also prevented NS398 and IFNgamma from increasing transformation of lipid-laden THP-1 macrophages into foam cells.
Conclusion: This study provides evidence supporting the notion of an atheroprotective effect of MTX. Through adenosine A2A receptor activation, MTX promotes reverse cholesterol transport and limits foam cell formation in THP-1 macrophages. This is the first reported evidence that any commonly used medication can increase expression of antiatherogenic reverse cholesterol transport proteins and can counteract the effects of COX-2 inhibition. Our results suggest that one mechanism by which MTX protects against cardiovascular disease in rheumatoid arthritis patients is through facilitation of cholesterol outflow from cells of the artery wall.