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Methotrexate Vial Clinical Pharmacology


12.1 Mechanism of Action

Methotrexate inhibits dihydrofolic acid reductase. Dihydrofolates must be reduced to tetrahydrofolates by this enzyme before they can be utilized as carriers of one-carbon groups in the synthesis of purine nucleotides and thymidylate. Therefore, methotrexate interferes with DNA synthesis, repair, and cellular replication. Actively proliferating tissues such as malignant cells, bone marrow, fetal cells, buccal and intestinal mucosa, and cells of the urinary bladder are in general more sensitive to this effect of methotrexate.

The mechanism of action in rheumatoid arthritis, pJIA, and in psoriasis is unknown.

12.3 Pharmacokinetics


After intravenous administration, the initial volume of distribution is approximately 0.18 L/kg (18% of body weight) and steady-state volume of distribution is approximately 0.4 L/to 0.8 L/kg (40% to 80% of body weight).

Methotrexate competes with reduced folates for active transport across cell membranes by means of a single carrier-mediated active transport process. At serum concentrations greater than 100 micromolar, passive diffusion becomes a major pathway by which effective intracellular concentrations can be achieved.

Methotrexate in serum is approximately 50% protein bound.

Methotrexate may be displaced from plasma albumin by various compounds, including sulfonamides, salicylates, tetracyclines, chloramphenicol, and phenytoin.

Methotrexate does not penetrate the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier in therapeutic amounts when given intravenously, intramuscularly, or subcutaneously.


The terminal half-life reported for methotrexate is approximately 3 to 10 hours for patients receiving treatment for psoriasis, or rheumatoid arthritis or low-dose antineoplastic therapy (less than 30 mg/m2).

Following intravenous administration of high-dose methotrexate, the terminal half-life is 8 hours to 15 hours.


Methotrexate undergoes hepatic and intracellular metabolism to polyglutamated forms that can be converted back to methotrexate by hydrolase enzymes. These polyglutamates act as inhibitors of dihydrofolate reductase and thymidylate synthetase. Small amounts of methotrexate polyglutamates may remain in tissues for extended periods. The retention and prolonged drug action of these active metabolites vary among different cells, tissues, and tumors. Methotrexate undergoes minor metabolism to 7-hydroxymethotrexate, and accumulation may become significant following high dosages. The aqueous solubility of 7-hydroxymethotrexate is 3- to 5-fold lower than the solubility of methotrexate.


Renal excretion is the primary route of elimination and is dependent upon dosage and route of administration. With intravenous administration, 80% to 90% of the administered dose is excreted unchanged in the urine within 24 hours. There is limited biliary excretion amounting to 10% or less of the administered dose. Enterohepatic recirculation of methotrexate has been proposed.

Renal excretion occurs by glomerular filtration and active tubular secretion. Nonlinear elimination due to saturation of renal tubular reabsorption has been observed in psoriatic patients at doses between 7.5 mg and 30 mg.

Specific Populations

Pediatric Patients

In pediatric patients receiving methotrexate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (6.3 mg/m2 to 30 mg/m2), or for JIA (3.75 mg/m2 to 26.2 mg/m2), the terminal half-life has been reported to range from 0.7 to 5.8 hours or from 0.9 to 2.3 hours, respectively [see Use in Specific Populations (8.4)].

Patients with Renal impairment

The elimination half-life of methotrexate increases with the severity of renal impairment, with high inter-individual variability [see Use in Specific Populations (8.6)].

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