To evaluate treatment with methotrexate (MTX) in patients with newly diagnosed giant cell arteritis (GCA) to determine if MTX reduces GCA relapses and cumulative corticosteroid (CS) requirements and diminishes disease- and treatment-related morbidity.
This was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind study. Over 4 years, 16 centers from the International Network for the Study of Systemic Vasculitides enrolled patients with unequivocal GCA. The initial treatment was 1 mg/kg/day (≤60 mg every day) prednisone, plus either 0.15 mg/kg/week MTX (increased to 0.25 mg/kg/week, for a maximum weekly dosage of 15 mg) or placebo. Two physicians, both blinded to treatment allocation, evaluated each patient at every trial visit. One physician was responsible for providing global medical care. The other assessed GCA status according to a standard protocol. Treatment failure was defined as 2 distinct relapses or persistence of disease activity after the first relapse, in spite of increased CS therapy.
Ninety-eight patients were enrolled. No significant differences between treatment groups were noted with regard to age, frequency of positive findings on temporal artery biopsy (placebo 87%, MTX 79%), or comorbidities at the time of enrollment. The median dosage of MTX was 15 mg/week. The incidence of treatment failure was comparable between groups after 12 months: 57.5% in the MTX group failed treatment (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 41.6–73.4%) compared with 77.3% in the placebo group (95% CI 61.9–92.8%) (P = 0.26). In a Cox regression analysis, MTX was not associated with a reduced risk of treatment failure (relative risk 0.72; 95% CI 0.41–1.28). There were no significant differences between groups with regard to abnormal elevations of the erythrocyte sedimentation rate following initial remissions, serious morbidity due to GCA, cumulative CS dose, or treatment toxicity. In the MTX group, there were fewer cases of GCA relapse heralded by symptoms of isolated polymyalgia rheumatica (1 case versus 5 in the placebo group; P = 0.05).
The results of this randomized, multicenter trial do not support the adjunctive use of MTX to control disease activity or to decrease the cumulative dose and toxicity of CS in patients with GCA.