OBJECTIVES: An efficient pharmacological response to MTX treatment in RA patients relies on the retention and accumulation of intracellular MTX-polyglutamates catalysed by the enzyme folylpolyglutamate synthetase (FPGS). We recently identified a partial retention of FPGS intron 8 (8PR) as a prominent splice variant conferring FPGS dysfunction and decreased MTX polyglutamylation in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Here, we explored the association between FPGS 8PR levels and lack of MTX responsiveness in RA patients.
METHODS: Thirty-six patients undergoing MTX treatment were enrolled from the Combinatie behandeling Reumatoide Artritis (COBRA)-light trial. RNA was isolated from blood samples at baseline, 13 weeks and 26 weeks of therapy, from patients in either COBRA-light (n = 21) or COBRA (n = 15) treatment arms. RT-qPCR analysis was used to assess RNA levels of FPGS 8PR over wild-type FPGS (8WT).
RESULTS: In the COBRA-light treatment arm, higher baseline ratios of 8PR/8WT were significantly associated with higher 44-joint disease activity score (DAS44) at 13 and 26 weeks. Higher baseline ratios of 8PR/8WT also trended towards not obtaining low disease activity (DAS <1.6) and becoming a EULAR non-responder at 13 and 26 weeks. In the COBRA-treatment arm, a significant association was observed between high baseline 8PR/8WT ratios and higher DAS44 score at 26 weeks. Higher 8PR/8WT ratios were associated with non-response at week 26 based on both low disease activity and EULAR criteria.
CONCLUSION: This study is the first to associate alterations in FPGS pre-mRNA splicing levels with reduced responsiveness to MTX treatment in RA patients.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN55552928.