Therapeutic effects of artesunate on lupus-prone MRL/lpr mice are dependent on T follicular helper cell differentiation and activation of JAK2-STAT3 signaling pathway

Phytomedicine. 2019 Sep;62:152965. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2019.152965. Epub 2019 May 19.


Background: Anti-malarial drug artesunate (ART), a semi-synthetic derivative of artemisnin, has immunosuppressive effects on several autoimmune diseases, including Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and Colitis. However, molecular mechanisms of ART, especially on follicular helper T cells (Tfh), central players in SLE pathology, are far from clear.

Purpose: The object for this work is to investigate the therapeutic effect of ART on lupus-prone MRL/lpr mice and its regulatory function on Tfh cells.

Study design and methods: MRL/lpr mice were used to explore therapeutic effects of ART on lupus-prone MRL/lpr mice and its regulatory functions on Tfh cells. Then, experiments of renal function were accomplished using the biochemical kits. Effects of ART on histopathology of kidneys, inflammatory factors and autoantibodies were examined using H&E staining, ELISA and real-time PCR. Flow cytometry and western blot analysis were used to examine effects of ART on Tfh differentiation and Jak2-Stat3 signaling pathway.

Results: Upon oral administration, ART significantly prolonged the survival of MRL/lpr mice, ameliorated the lupus nephritis symptoms, decreased the levels of anti-dsDNA antibodies deposited in the kidney, and the levels of pathogenic cytokines (IL-6, IFN-γ and IL-21). After ART treatment, T-cell compartment in the spleen of MRL/lpr mice was restored in terms of reduction in the number of Tfh cells and in the maintenance of the ratio of Tfr to follicular regulatory T cells (Tfh). In addition, ART has significantly inhibited the phosphorylation levels of Jak2 and Stat3 in the MRL/lpr mice.

Conclusion: ART showed therapeutic effects on lupus-prone MRL/lpr mice by inhibiting the differentiation of Tfh cells as well as altering the activation status of Jak2-Stat3 signaling cascade.

Keywords: Artesunate; Follicular helper T cells; Lupus nephritis; Systemic lupus erythematosus.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimalarials / pharmacology*
  • Artesunate / pharmacology*
  • Autoantibodies / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Janus Kinase 2 / metabolism
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Lupus Nephritis / drug therapy*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred MRL lpr
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology


  • Antimalarials
  • Autoantibodies
  • Cytokines
  • STAT3 Transcription Factor
  • Stat3 protein, mouse
  • Artesunate
  • Jak2 protein, mouse
  • Janus Kinase 2