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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 Mar 15; 88(6): 2441–2445.

Methotrexate inhibits neutrophil function by stimulating adenosine release from connective tissue cells.


Although commonly used to control a variety of inflammatory diseases, the mechanism of action of a low dose of methotrexate remains a mystery. Methotrexate accumulates intracellularly where it may interfere with purine metabolism. Therefore, we determined whether a 48-hr pretreatment with methotrexate affected adenosine release from [14C]adenine-labeled human fibroblasts and umbilical vein endothelial cells. Methotrexate significantly increased adenosine release by fibroblasts from 4 +/- 1% to 31 +/- 6% of total purine released (EC50, 1 nM) and by endothelial cells from 24 +/- 4% to 42 +/- 7%. Methotrexate-enhanced adenosine release from fibroblasts was further increased to 51 +/- 4% (EC50, 6 nM) and from endothelial cells was increased to 58 +/- 5% of total purine released by exposure to stimulated (fMet-Leu-Phe at 0.1 microM) neutrophils. The effect of methotrexate on adenosine release was not due to cytotoxicity since cells treated with maximal concentrations of methotrexate took up [14C]adenine and released 14C-labeled purine (a measure of cell injury) in a manner identical to control cells. Methotrexate treatment of fibroblasts dramatically inhibited adherence to fibroblasts by both unstimulated neutrophils (IC50, 9 nM) and stimulated neutrophils (IC50, 13 nM). Methotrexate treatment inhibited neutrophil adherence by enhancing adenosine release from fibroblasts since digestion of extracellular adenosine by added adenosine deaminase completely abrogated the effect of methotrexate on neutrophil adherence without, itself, affecting adherence. One hypothesis that explains the effect of methotrexate on adenosine release is that, by inhibition of 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR) transformylase, methotrexate induces the accumulation of AICAR, the nucleoside precursor of which (5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleoside referred to hereafter as acadesine) has previously been shown to cause adenosine release from ischemic cardiac tissue. We found that acadesine also promotes adenosine release from and inhibits neutrophil adherence to connective tissue cells. The observation that the antiinflammatory actions of methotrexate are due to the capacity of methotrexate to induce adenosine release may form the basis for the development of an additional class of antiinflammatory drugs.

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