Metabolic pathways mediate pathogenesis and offer targets for treatment in rheumatic diseases

Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2020 Mar;32(2):184-191. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0000000000000687.


Purpose of review: The cause of autoimmune diseases remains incompletely understood. Here, we highlight recent advances in the role of proinflammatory metabolic pathways in autoimmune disease, including treatment with antioxidants and mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors.

Recent findings: Recent studies show that mTOR pathway activation, glucose utilization, mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, and antioxidant defenses play critical roles in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, immune thrombocytopenia, Sjögren's syndrome, large vessel vasculitis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. mTOR activity leads to Th1 and Th17 cell proliferation, Treg depletion, plasma cell differentiation, macrophage dysfunction, and increased antibody and immune complex production, ultimately resulting in tissue inflammation. mTOR also affects the function of connective tissue cells, including fibroblast-like synoviocytes, endothelial cells, and podocytes. mTOR inhibition via rapamycin and N-acetylcysteine, and blockade of glucose utilization show clinical efficacy in both mouse models and clinical trials, such as systemic lupus erythematosus.

Summary: The mTOR pathway is a central regulator of growth and survival signals, integrating environmental cues to control cell proliferation and differentiation. Activation of mTOR underlies inflammatory lineage specification, and mTOR blockade-based therapies show promising efficacy in several autoimmune diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Rheumatic Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / therapeutic use
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism


  • Sirolimus