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Pharmacokinetics of oral and subcutaneous methotrexate in red and white blood cells in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis: the methotrexate monitoring trial


Objective To investigate the pharmacokinetics of methotrexate polyglutamate (MTX-PG) accumulation in red blood cells (RBCs) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) after oral and subcutaneous MTX treatment.

Methods In a clinical prospective cohort study (Methotrexate Monitoring study), newly diagnosed patients with RA were randomised for oral or subcutaneous MTX. At 1, 2, 3 and 6 months after therapy initiation, blood was collected and RBCs and PBMCs were isolated. MTX-PG1-6 concentrations were determined by mass spectrometry methods using stable isotopes of MTX-PG1-6 as internal standards.

Results 43 patients (mean age: 58.5 years, 77% female) were included. PBMCs and RBCs revealed disparate pharmacokinetic profiles in both absolute MTX-PG accumulation levels and distribution profiles. Intracellular MTX-PG accumulation in PBMCs was significantly (p<0.001) 10-fold to 20-fold higher than RBCs at all time points, regardless of the administration route. MTX-PG distribution in PBMCs was composed of mostly MTX-PG1 (PG1>PG2>PG3). Remarkably, the distribution profile in PBMCs remained constant over 6 months. RBCs accumulated mainly MTX-PG1 and lower levels of MTX-PG2-5 at t=1 month. After 3 months, MTX-PG3 was the main PG-moiety in RBCs, a profile retained after 6 months of MTX therapy. Subcutaneous MTX administration results in higher RBC drug levels than after oral administration, especially shortly after treatment initiation.

Conclusions This is the first study reporting disparate MTX-PG accumulation profiles in RBCs versus PBMCs in newly diagnosed patients with RA during 6 months oral or subcutaneous MTX administration. This analysis can contribute to improved MTX therapeutic drug monitoring for patients with RA.

Trial registration number NTR 7149.

  • arthritis, rheumatoid
  • methotrexate
  • pharmacokinetics

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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