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  • Open Access

Methotrexate does not primarily affect Foxp3+ regulatory T cells in poly-articular juvenile idiopathic arthritis

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Pediatric Rheumatology20086 (Suppl 1) :P23

  • Published:


  • Heat Shock
  • Methotrexate
  • Heat Shock Protein
  • Modulative Effect
  • Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis


Methotrexate (MTX) is the most widely used disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug in juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), inducing long-lasting remission in many patients. It usually takes 6–12 weeks before anti-inflammatory effects are clinically noticed, suggesting modulatory effects on T cells. We examined the effect of MTX on (induced) regulatory T cells (Treg) in JIA.

Materials and methods

We sampled 11 patients with active poly-articular JIA (poly-JIA) prior to and 3–6 months after initiating MTX. Moreover, 11 poly-JIA patients in remission on MTX were sampled prior to and 3–6 months after withdrawal of MTX. Frequency and characteristics of Foxp3+CD4+Treg and effector T cell subsets were analyzed by flowcytometry. Function of Treg was evaluated in suppression assays. Responses to human heat shock protein 60 (HSP60) were studied in proliferation assays.


MTX-treatment resulted in a decrease of Foxp3+CD4+ Treg (3,7% to 2,8% of CD4+T cells). Suppressive function of Treg was not altered by MTX. Interestingly, stimulation with anti-CD3 resulted in increased proliferation of CD4+CD25- effector T cells after 3 months MTX compared to pre-MTX. Moreover, proliferative responses to human HSP60 increased after MTX-treatment. The quality of the HSP60-response changed with a less pro-inflammatory cytokine profile in supernatants after MTX-treatment. When JIA-patients in remission on MTX-treatment withdrawed MTX, the frequency of Treg increased (3,2 to 3,8% of CD4+ T cells) but their suppressive function remained unchanged.


MTX seems to exert its immune-modulating effects not by affecting Foxp3+ Treg. Instead, we observed changes in effector T cells and HSP60 specific T cells.

Authors’ Affiliations

Wilhelmina Childres Hospital, University Medical Centre, Utrecht, Netherlands


© Vastert et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2008

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd.