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OBJECTIVE: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the synovial environment is characterized by intense immunological activity. Evidence suggests that statins modulate immune functions and may have a beneficial effect on patients with RA. We investigated whether simvastatin could inhibit the expression of interleukin 6 (IL-6) and IL-8 and cell proliferation induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) obtained from RA patients undergoing joint replacement therapy. METHODS: RA FLS were cultured with or without 0.05-10 microM simvastatin for 12 h. Cytokine mRNA expression and secretion levels were detected using real-time PCR and ELISA, respectively. Cell proliferation of FLS induced by TNF-alpha was determined by MTT assay. RESULTS: Real-time PCR analysis revealed that the levels of IL-6 and IL-8 mRNA expressed by FLS were reduced by simvastatin in a dose-dependent manner. Levels of IL-6 and IL-8 in FLS culture supernatants were decreased by simvastatin in a time-dependent and dose-dependent manner. MTT assay revealed that simvastatin could inhibit proliferation of FLS induced by TNF-alpha. These effects of simvastatin on IL-6 and IL-8 production and cell proliferation were reversed in the presence of mevalonic acid or geranylgeranyl-pyrophosphate, but not with farnesyl-pyrophosphate. CONCLUSION: Our results suggest that the beneficial effect of simvastatin in RA patients may involve inhibition of IL-6 and IL-8 production, as well as reduction of cell proliferation.