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Cyclosporin A is an established immunomodulatory agent with an increasing number of clinical applications. Although its precise mechanisms of action remain elusive, one of the most important known properties of CyA is its ability to inhibit the production of cytokines involved in the regulation of T-cell activation. In particular, CyA inhibits de novo synthesis of interleukin 2(IL-2), the major cytokine involved in T-cell proliferation, as well as other cytokines, probably at the level of gene transcription, as shown by the suppression of mRNA levels in activated T-cells. Although the major actions of CyA are on T-cells, there is some evidence for possible direct effects on other cell types e.g. B-cells, macrophages and, from our own work, on bone and cartilage cells. Cyclosporin A is thought to enter cells and to bind to cyclophilins, which are members of a family of high-affinity cyclosporin A-binding proteins, now known as immunophilins. The binding of cyclosporins to such proteins appears to be closely linked to the immunosuppressive action of cyclosporins. The immunophilins possess enzyme activity, ie. peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase, also known as rotamase, which can regulate protein folding, and may therefore alter the functional state of many cell proteins. Cyclosporin A blocks peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase activity but it is not clear whether this plays a part in its selective inhibition of cytokine-gene transcription. Moreover, the ubiquitous presence of cyclophilins and immunophilins raises the question of why cyclosporin A has its apparent major effects only on T-cells. Recent proposals regarding the intracellular mode of action of CyA suggest that it interacts with cyclophilin and other regulatory proteins including calmodulin and calcineurin, which is a serine/threonine phosphatase, and thereby affects the functional state of key regulators of gene transcription in its target cells. The effects of CyA on T-cells and directly or indirectly on connective tissue cells, including bone, cartilage and synovial cells, which all can produce a range of cytokines, are of interest in relation to the tissue changes that occur in inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, for example, cyclosporin A inhibits in vitro the bone resorbing activity of interleukin 1, 1,25-dihydroxy-vitamin D3, parathyroid hormone and prostaglandin E2 by apparently non-T-cell effects, while in vivo protects against bone and cartilage loss in adjuvant arthritis. More needs to be known about the direct and indirect modulation of cytokine production by cyclosporin A in connective tissues, in order to understand its potential value in clinical disorders.

Original publication




Conference paper

Publication Date





9 - 18


Arthritis, Rheumatoid, B-Lymphocytes, Bone and Bones, Cyclosporine, Cytokines, Humans, Joints, T-Lymphocytes