Table 1

Mechanism of action of common immunomodulatory agents

DrugMechanism of actionImmune consequences
CorticosteroidInhibits gene transcription for secretion of inflammatory cytokinesReduces leucocyte migration, phagocytic function of neutrophils and monocytes, and T-cell function
AzathioprinePurine antimetabolite: inhibits resting (G1) and DNA synthesis (S) phases of the cell cycleApoptosis of T lymphocytes
MethotrexateFolic acid antagonist; inhibits purine synthesisSpecific immune cell targets unknown
Mycophenolate mofetilBlocks de novo purine synthesisAntilymphocyte (T-cell and B-cell) action. Less toxic than azathioprine
CyclophosphamideDNA alkylation: blocks all phases of cell cycleAnti T-cell and B-cell activity
RituximabMonoclonal anti-CD20 antibodyReduces pathogenic antibody production by reducing CD20 positive B cells and the number of new plasma cells (CD20 negative but develop from B-lineage). Reduces pathogenic antibodies and disrupts other B-cell roles (such as antigen-presenting cells) in the immune system