Methotrexate--how does it really work?

Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2010 Mar;6(3):175-8. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2010.5.


Methotrexate remains a cornerstone in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Folate antagonism is known to contribute to the antiproliferative effects that are important in the action of methotrexate against malignant diseases, but concomitant administration of folic or folinic acid does not diminish the anti-inflammatory potential of this agent, which suggests that other mechanisms of action might be operative. Although no single mechanism is sufficient to account for all the anti-inflammatory activities of methotrexate, the release of adenosine from cells has been demonstrated both in vitro and in vivo. Methotrexate might also confer anti-inflammatory properties through the inhibition of polyamines. The biological effects on inflammation associated with adenosine release have provided insight into how methotrexate exerts its effects against inflammatory diseases and at the same time causes some of its well-known adverse effects. These activities contribute to the complex and multifaceted mechanisms that make methotrexate efficacious in the treatment of inflammatory disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / metabolism
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Folic Acid Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / metabolism
  • Methotrexate / pharmacology*
  • Polyamines / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Polyamines / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Folic Acid Antagonists
  • Polyamines
  • Methotrexate