Methotrexate (MTX) plus ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis


  • See Editorial on Page 1009

  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


This placebo-controlled, randomized, multicenter trial compared the effects of MTX plus UDCA to UDCA alone on the course of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). Two hundred and sixty five AMA positive patients without ascites, variceal bleeding, or encephalopathy; a serum bilirubin less than 3 mg/dL; serum albumin 3 g/dL or greater, who had taken UDCA 15 mg/kg daily for at least 6 months, were stratified by Ludwig's histological staging and then randomized to MTX 15 mg/m2 body surface area (maximum dose 20 mg) once a week while continuing on UDCA. The median time from randomization to closure of the study was 7.6 years (range: 4.6-8.8 years). Treatment failure was defined as death without liver transplantation; transplantation; variceal bleeding; development of ascites, encephalopathy, or varices; a doubling of serum bilirubin to 2.5 mg/dL or greater; a fall in serum albumin to 2.5 g/dL or less; histological progression by at least two stages or to cirrhosis. Patients were continued on treatment despite failure of treatment, unless transplantation ensued, drug toxicity necessitated withdrawal, or the patient developed a cancer. There were no significant differences in these parameters nor to the time of development of treatment failures observed for patients taking UDCA plus MTX, or UDCA plus placebo. The trial was conducted with a stopping rule, and was stopped early by the National Institutes of Health at the advice of our Data Safety Monitoring Board for reasons of futility. In conclusion, methotrexate when added to UDCA for a median period of 7.6 years had no effect on the course of PBC treated with UDCA alone. Supplementary material for this article can be found on the HEPATOLOGY website ( (HEPATOLOGY 2005;42:1184–1193.)