Profiling drugs for rheumatoid arthritis that inhibit synovial fibroblast activation

Nat Chem Biol. 2017 Jan;13(1):38-45. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.2211. Epub 2016 Oct 31.


Activation of synovial fibroblasts (SFs) contributes to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by damaging synovial membranes and generating inflammatory cytokines that recruit immune cells to the joint. In this paper we profile cytokine secretion by primary human SFs from healthy tissues and from donors with RA and show that SF activation by TNF, IL-1α, and polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (Poly(I:C)) cause secretion of multiple cytokines found at high levels in RA synovial fluids. We used interaction multiple linear regression to quantify therapeutic and countertherapeutic drug effects across activators and donors and found that the ability of drugs to block SF activation was strongly dependent on the identity of the activating cytokine. (5z)-7-oxozeaenol (5ZO), a preclinical drug that targets transforming growth factor-β-activated kinase 1 (TAK1), was more effective at blocking SF activation across all contexts than the approved drug tofacitinib, which supports the development of molecules similar to 5ZO for use as RA therapeutics.

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / chemistry
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Synovial Fluid / cytology*
  • Synovial Membrane / drug effects*
  • Synovial Membrane / metabolism
  • Zearalenone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Zearalenone / chemistry
  • Zearalenone / pharmacology


  • 5-7-oxo-zeaenol
  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Zearalenone