Mechanisms of methotrexate action in rheumatoid arthritis. Selective decrease in synovial collagenase gene expression

Arthritis Rheum. 1994 Feb;37(2):193-200. doi: 10.1002/art.1780370207.


Objective: To measure the effect of methotrexate (MTX) treatment in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on the expression of synovial collagenase, stromelysin, and tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase 1 (TIMP-1) gene expression in a prospective study.

Methods: Serial percutaneous synovial biopsies (pretreatment and after 3-4 months) were performed on the knees of 8 patients (7 with RA, 1 with seronegative arthritis) who were beginning oral MTX therapy. Synovial gene expression was determined by quantitative in situ hybridization using computer-assisted image analysis.

Results: After therapy, patients had decreased joint counts, morning stiffness, and erythrocyte sedimentation rates. Synovial inflammation in the biopsy tissues was slightly decreased after therapy. In situ hybridization on pretreatment and posttreatment frozen sections was performed to quantify synovial messenger RNA (mRNA) levels. Collagenase gene expression significantly decreased after MTX therapy (P = 0.006) even though cell density in the region was unchanged. TIMP-1 and stromelysin mRNA levels were not changed by MTX therapy. To study the mechanism of MTX action in vitro, MTX-treated and control fibroblast-like synoviocytes were stimulated with interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta). MTX did not alter collagenase or TIMP-1 mRNA levels after IL-1 exposure.

Conclusion: MTX therapy decreases collagenase gene expression but not TIMP-1 or stromelysin gene expression in the synovium. This action is probably an indirect effect due to an alteration in the synovial cytokine milieu, rather than a direct effect on gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Collagenases / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects*
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3
  • Metalloendopeptidases / genetics
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Synovial Membrane / metabolism
  • Synovial Membrane / pathology
  • Synovial Membrane / physiology*
  • Synovitis / pathology
  • Tissue Inhibitor of Metalloproteinases


  • Glycoproteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tissue Inhibitor of Metalloproteinases
  • Collagenases
  • Metalloendopeptidases
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 3
  • Methotrexate