To explore the possibility that the mechanism of action of methotrexate (MTX) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is related to modulation of interleukin-1 (IL-1), the effects of MTX on IL-1 production and activity were evaluated. Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells and murine peritoneal and splenic cells were stimulated by lipopolysaccharide to produce IL-1. No inhibition of IL-1 synthesis or secretion caused by MTX treatment could be demonstrated either in vitro or in vivo, in patients with RA or in mice treated with MTX. We did show, however, that MTX had an inhibitory effect on IL-1 activity in 2 assays that demonstrate 2 different functions of IL-1. In a 2-step assay using LBRM-33-1A5 (1A5) and CTLD cells, MTX inhibited the secretion of IL-2 by 1A5 lymphoma cells in response to phytohemagglutinin and IL-1. In an assay using D10.G4.1 (D10) cells, MTX inhibited IL-1-induced proliferation of the D10 T cell clone. No effect of the drug on IL-2 activity was observed. The results demonstrate that MTX is capable of inhibiting some IL-1 activities without affecting IL-1 production or secretion. We propose that the inhibition of IL-1 activity or IL-1-dependent events may be one of the mechanisms of action of MTX in RA.