Tofacitinib Suppresses Several JAK-STAT Pathways in Rheumatoid Arthritis In Vivo and Baseline Signaling Profile Associates With Treatment Response

Maaria Palmroth, Krista Kuuliala, Ritva Peltomaa, Anniina Virtanen, Antti Kuuliala, Antti Kurttila, Anna Kinnunen, Marjatta Leirisalo-Repo, Olli Silvennoinen, Pia Isomäki

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Objective: Current knowledge on the actions of tofacitinib on cytokine signaling pathways in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is based on in vitro studies. Our study is the first to examine the effects of tofacitinib treatment on Janus kinase (JAK) - signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) pathways in vivo in patients with RA. Methods: Sixteen patients with active RA, despite treatment with conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (csDMARDs), received tofacitinib 5 mg twice daily for three months. Levels of constitutive and cytokine-induced phosphorylated STATs in peripheral blood monocytes, T cells and B cells were measured by flow cytometry at baseline and three-month visits. mRNA expression of JAKs, STATs and suppressors of cytokine signaling (SOCS) were measured from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) by quantitative PCR. Association of baseline signaling profile with treatment response was also investigated. Results: Tofacitinib, in csDMARDs background, decreased median disease activity score (DAS28) from 4.4 to 2.6 (p < 0.001). Tofacitinib treatment significantly decreased cytokine-induced phosphorylation of all JAK-STAT pathways studied. However, the magnitude of the inhibitory effect depended on the cytokine and cell type studied, varying from 10% to 73% inhibition following 3-month treatment with tofacitinib. In general, strongest inhibition by tofacitinib was observed with STAT phosphorylations induced by cytokines signaling through the common-γ-chain cytokine receptor in T cells, while lowest inhibition was demonstrated for IL-10 -induced STAT3 phosphorylation in monocytes. Constitutive STAT1, STAT3, STAT4 and STAT5 phosphorylation in monocytes and/or T cells was also downregulated by tofacitinib. Tofacitinib treatment downregulated the expression of several JAK-STAT pathway components in PBMCs, SOCSs showing the strongest downregulation. Baseline STAT phosphorylation levels in T cells and monocytes and SOCS3 expression in PBMCs correlated with treatment response. Conclusions: Tofacitinib suppresses multiple JAK-STAT pathways in cytokine and cell population specific manner in RA patients in vivo. Besides directly inhibiting JAK activation, tofacitinib downregulates the expression of JAK-STAT pathway components. This may modulate the effects of tofacitinib on JAK-STAT pathway activation in vivo and explain some of the differential findings between the current study and previous in vitro studies. Finally, baseline immunological markers associate with the treatment response to tofacitinib.

Original languageEnglish
Article number738481
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • B cells
  • cytokines
  • JAK inhibitor
  • monocytes
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • T cells

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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