Weekly treatment with low-dose oral methotrexate (MTX) was compared with daily auranofin (AUR) treatment in a 36-week double-blind, randomized, multicenter study of 281 patients with active, adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis. Both treatment groups showed significant improvement by the usual measures of clinical efficacy. The response with MTX occurred earlier and was consistently greater than that with AUR. An intent-to-treat analysis showed significantly greater improvement (P less than 0.01) with MTX for painful and swollen joint counts and physician and patient global assessments of disease activity. Adverse reactions were reported more frequently in the AUR group, and more AUR-treated patients were withdrawn from the study because of toxicity. MTX was thus more effective and better tolerated than AUR in this study.