Objective: To look for in vitro modulation of the main immunoregulatory and antiinflammatory cytokines by methotrexate (MTX) during the course of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: We quantified interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-4, IL-10, and interferon-gamma (IFNgamma) gene expression by peripheral blood mononuclear cells ex vivo under basal conditions and in vitro after stimulation with phytohemagglutinin (PHA) or PHA plus MTX, by competitive reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), in 12 patients with untreated active RA (group 1), 10 patients with MTX-treated disease in partial remission (group 2), and 11 healthy control subjects. Simultaneously, under the same experimental conditions, we quantified cytokine production by specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs).
Results: Under basal conditions, we found no differences in IL-2, IL-10, and IFNgamma gene expression in the 3 groups, while IL-4 gene expression was significantly decreased in RA patient group 1 compared with the control group. In vitro, under the action of MTX, IL-10 gene expression was significantly increased in the 3 groups, IL-4 gene expression was significantly increased in RA group 1 and in the control group, and IL-2 and IFNgamma gene expression was significantly decreased in RA group 1. Cytokine gene expression assessed by RT-PCR and cytokine production assessed by specific ELISAs were highly correlated.
Conclusion: In vitro modulation of the cytokine network by MTX, increasing Th2 cytokines and decreasing Th1 cytokines, could explain its antiinflammatory and immunoregulatory actions in vivo during the treatment of RA.