The calcineurin inhibitors cyclosporine and tacrolimus are important treatments for patients with active rheumatoid arthritis, especially in cases of resistance or intolerance to methotrexate or other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Here, we discuss the mechanism, efficacy and safety of cyclosporine and tacrolimus in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Recent clinical trials of cyclosporine have shown the advantages of its combination with methotrexate, glucocorticoids and leflunomide in the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis. In Japan, tacrolimus monotherapy was found to be quite effective and combination therapy with methotrexate had positive results in an American study. The inhibitory effects of both drugs not only on T lymphocytes, but also on human osteoclast formation, have been demonstrated in basic studies. Cyclosporine and tacrolimus are clinically available disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Numerous clinical studies have shown the usefulness of these calcineurin inhibitors in monotherapy and also when combined with methotrexate. Although these drugs have similar effects, there are some differences in adverse reactions.