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Gastroenterology. 1994 Feb;106(2):494-9.

A double-blind controlled trial of oral-pulse methotrexate therapy in the treatment of primary sclerosing cholangitis.

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Department of Medicine, New England Medical Center Hospital, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts.



Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a progressive disease with no accepted effective treatment. Because methotrexate was associated with clinical and histological improvement in two men with PSC, we conducted a prospective trial of methotrexate in PSC.


A prospective placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of methotrexate in PSC was performed. Twenty-four patients with PSC were randomized to receive methotrexate or placebo for a 2-year period. Seven of 12 taking methotrexate and five taking placebo had cirrhosis. Serial liver biopsies, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), and biochemical tests of liver function were followed.


There were no significant changes in liver histological results, ERCP findings, tests of liver function (other than alkaline phosphatase), or outcome between the two groups. Mean alkaline phosphatase levels decreased by 152 IU in the methotrexate group and increased by 30 IU in the placebo group (P = 0.032). Patients taking methotrexate were more likely to reduce or discontinue cholestyramine than patients taking placebo.


This study does not support efficacy for methotrexate in the treatment of PSC. On the basis of this study, the empiric use of methotrexate in patients with PSC is not recommended. However, methotrexate is being further evaluated in patients with precirrhotic PSC.

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