The global tuberculosis (TB) epidemic and the spread of multi- and extensively-drug resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M.tb) have been fueled by low adherence to following lengthy treatment protocols, and the rapid spread of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Persistence of the infection in immunocompetent individuals follows from the ability of M.tb to subvert host immune responses in favor of survival within macrophages. Alternative host-directed strategies are therefore being currently sought to improve treatment efficacy and duration. In this study, we evaluated tofacitinib, a new oral Janus kinase (JAK) blocker with anti-inflammatory properties, in shortening tuberculosis treatment. BALB/c mice, which are immunocompetent, showed acceleration of M.tb clearance achieving apparent sterilization after 16 weeks of adjunctive tofacitinib therapy at average exposures higher than recommended in humans, while mice receiving standard treatment alone did not achieve clearance until 24 weeks. True sterilization with tofacitinib was not achieved until five months. C3HeB/FeJ mice, which show reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines during M.tb infection, did not show improved clearance with adjunctive tofacitinib therapy, indicating that the nature of granulomatous lesions and host immunity may influence responsiveness to tofacitinib. Our findings suggest that the JAK pathway could be explored further for host-directed therapy in immunocompetent individuals.
Keywords: Host-directed therapy; Tofacitinib; Tuberculosis.