Some science behind the scenes
Antifolates are a class of immunosuppressant and are also classified as antimetabolites.
An antimetabolite is a chemical that inhibits the use of a metabolite, which is another chemical that is part of normal metabolism.
Such substances are often similar in structure to the metabolite that they interfere with, and such is the case with the antifolates that interfere with the use of folic acid. Other representatives of these drugs are:
- purine analogues - purine synthesis inhibitors that inhibit the synthesis of purine
- pyrimidine analogues - pyramidine synthesis inhibitors that inhibit the synthesis of pyramidine
Anti-metabolites thus masquerade as a purine (azathioprine, mercaptopurine) or a pyrimidine, or folic acid chemicals that become the building-blocks of DNA. They prevent these substances becoming incorporated in to DNA during the S phase (of the cell cycle), stopping normal development and division.
As you can see, the presence of antimetabolites can have toxic effects on cells, such as halting cell growth and cell division, so these compounds are sometimes used as chemotherapy for cancer.
So how, you might ask, can this class of drugs suppress the immune system. Well many of those cells are used in the immune system response – they are leukocytes for example and T cells. Thus these drugs inhibit the production of our immune system cells – there are not as many attacking cells produced, which is why they are believed to help in combatting the autoimmune diseases because they reduce the number of cells doing the attacking.
This of course also depends on whether you believe autoimmune diseases exist.
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