Comparison of baricitinib, upadacitinib, and tofacitinib mediated regulation of cytokine signaling in human leukocyte subpopulations

Arthritis Res Ther. 2019 Aug 2;21(1):183. doi: 10.1186/s13075-019-1964-1.


Background: The in vitro pharmacology of baricitinib, upadacitinib, and tofacitinib was evaluated to understand differences among these JAK inhibitors (JAKis) at the cellular level.

Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy donors were incubated with different JAKis, levels of phosphorylated signal transducer and activator of transcription (pSTAT) were measured following cytokine stimulation, and half maximum inhibitory concentration (IC50) values were calculated in phenotypically gated leukocyte subpopulations. Therapeutic dose relevance of the in vitro analysis was assessed using calculated mean concentration-time profiles over 24 h obtained from JAKi-treated subjects. Time above IC50 and average daily percent inhibition of pSTAT formation were calculated for each JAKi, cytokine, and cell type.

Results: Distinct JAKis displayed different in vitro pharmacologic profiles. For example, tofacitinib and upadacitinib were the most potent inhibitors of the JAK1/3-dependent cytokines tested (interleukin [IL]-2, IL-4, IL-15, and IL-21) with lower IC50 values and increased time above IC50 translating to a greater overall inhibition of STAT signaling during the dosing interval. All JAKis tested inhibited JAK1/2-dependent cytokines (e.g., IL-6 and interferon [IFN]-γ), the JAK1/tyrosine kinase 2 (TYK2)-dependent cytokines IL-10 and IFN-α, the JAK2/2-dependent cytokines IL-3 and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and the JAK2/TYK2-dependent cytokine granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), but often to significantly differing degrees.

Conclusions: Different JAKis modulated distinct cytokine pathways to varying degrees, and no agent potently or continuously inhibited an individual cytokine signaling pathway throughout the dosing interval. Notably, baricitinib inhibited JAK1/3 signaling to a lesser extent than upadacitinib and tofacitinib, while upadacitinib, baricitinib, and tofacitinib inhibited the signaling of JAK2/2-dependent cytokines, including GM-CSF and IL-3, as well as the signaling of the JAK2/TYK2-dependent cytokine G-CSF.

Keywords: Baricitinib; Cytokine; Janus kinase; Phosphorylated signal transducer and activator of transcription; Potency; Receptor kinase signaling; Rheumatoid arthritis; Selectivity; Tofacitinib; Upadacitinib.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Azetidines / pharmacology*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cytokines / drug effects
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Heterocyclic Compounds, 3-Ring / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Janus Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / pathology
  • Piperidines / pharmacology*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Purines
  • Pyrazoles
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology*
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology*


  • Azetidines
  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Heterocyclic Compounds, 3-Ring
  • Janus Kinase Inhibitors
  • Piperidines
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Purines
  • Pyrazoles
  • Pyrimidines
  • Pyrroles
  • Sulfonamides
  • upadacitinib
  • tofacitinib
  • baricitinib