Background: The pharmacokinetics of low-dose subcutaneous methotrexate have not been determined throughout the standard weekly dosing interval. It is not known whether methotrexate concentrations in the gastrointestinal tract are sufficient for pharmacologic activity in inflammatory bowel disease.
Methods: Ten patients with inflammatory bowel disease participated in the study. After the patients started taking 15 or 25 mg subcutaneous methotrexate once a week, erythrocyte methotrexate concentration was measured every 2 weeks. The absorption, rectal distribution, metabolism, and elimination of methotrexate were measured. The effect of methotrexate on proliferation of an intestinal epithelial cell line was determined.
Results: After weekly subcutaneous administration of methotrexate was begun, trough erythrocyte concentration rose to reach a plateau after 6 to 8 weeks, ranging from 150 to 300 nmol/L. More than 90% of subcutaneously administered methotrexate was rapidly excreted in the urine. The methotrexate plasma time course after subcutaneous administration fit a 2-compartment first-order model with biphasic elimination and trough concentration of about 1 nmol/L. Trough and peak methotrexate concentrations (mean value +/- SD) were 64 +/- 33 and 206 +/- 64 fmol/mg in the rectal mucosa and 4 +/- 3 and 51 +/- 26 nmol/L in the rectal lumen. These methotrexate concentrations were in the range found to be pharmacologically active against Caco-2 cell growth, that is, a 50% inhibitory concentration from 10 to 46 nmol/L.
Conclusion: Subcutaneous methotrexate was well absorbed and distributed to the site of the lesions in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Methotrexate was concentrated intracellularly in blood and in the rectum. The methotrexate concentration in the rectal mucosa remained within a pharmacologically active range throughout the dosing interval. The findings represent a pharmacologic explanation for the sustained efficacy of weekly methotrexate therapy.