Damaging effects of chronic low-dose methotrexate usage on primary bone formation in young rats and potential protective effects of folinic acid supplementary treatment

Chiaming Fan, Johanna C. Cool, Michaela Scherer, Bruce K. Foster, Tetyana Shandala, Heather Tapp, Cory J. Xian

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69 Citations (Scopus)


Methotrexate (MTX) is a most commonly used anti-metabolite in cancer treatment and as an anti-rheumatic drug. While MTX chemotherapy at a high dose is known to cause bone growth defects in growing bones, effects of its chronic use at a low dose on growing skeleton remain less clear. Here, we examined effects on bone growth of long-term MTX chemotherapy at a low dose in young rats, and potential protective effects of supplementary treatment with antidote folinic acid (given ip at 1 mg/kg 6 h after MTX). After two cycles of 5 once-daily MTX injections (at 0.75 mg/kg, 5 days on/9 days off/5 days on), histological analysis showed that MTX at this dose caused significant reduction in heights of growth plate and primary spongiosa bone on day 22 compared to controls (P < 0.05). In contrast, a similar dosing regimen but at a lower dose (0.4 mg/kg) caused only slight or no reduction in heights of both regions. However, after the induction phase at this 0.4 mg/kg dosing, continued use of MTX at a low dose (once weekly at 0.2 mg/kg) caused a reduction in primary spongiosa height and bone volume on weeks 9 and 14, which was associated with an increased osteoclast formation and their bone surface density as well as a decreased osteoblast bone surface density in the primary spongiosa. Folinic acid supplementation was shown able to prevent the MTX effects in the primary spongiosa. These results suggest that acute use of MTX can damage growth plate and primary bone at a high dose, but not at a low dose. However, long-term use of MTX at a low dose can reduce primary bone formation probably due to decreased osteoblastic function but increased osteoclastic formation and function, and supplementary treatment with folinic acid may be potentially useful in protecting bone growth during long-term low-dose MTX chemotherapy. Crown

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-70
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Jan 2009


  • Bone marrow osteoprogenitor cells
  • Folinic acid
  • Growth Plate
  • Methotrexate chemotherapy
  • Osteoclast precursor
  • Osteoclastogenesis
  • Osteogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Histology

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