Immune checkpoint inhibitor-induced refractory polyarthritis rapidly improved by sarilumab and monitoring with joint ultrasonography: A case report

Medicine (Baltimore). 2022 Jan 14;101(2):e28428. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000028428.


Rationale: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have shown efficacy for the treatment of various kinds of malignant tumors. However, ICIs can cause immune-related adverse events, such as arthritis. Nevertheless, the treatment of ICI-induced arthritis has not been established yet. Here we report a case of ICI-induced polyarthritis successfully treated using sarilumab and monitored using joint ultrasonography.

Patient concerns: A 61-year-old man presented with polyarthritis. He had been treated with nivolumab for recurrent renal cell carcinoma 11 months before. He developed ICI-induced nephritis (proteinuria and elevated serum creatinine) 3 months before, which resolved after discontinuing nivolumab for 1 month. Two months after resuming nivolumab, he developed polyarthralgia and joint swelling, which were suspected to be associated with nivolumab administration, and hence we discontinued nivolumab again. Laboratory tests revealed elevated C-reactive protein level and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, but were negative for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody. Joint ultrasonography revealed active synovitis in several joints, but a joint X-ray revealed no bone erosion.

Diagnoses: We diagnosed polyarthritis as ICI-induced arthritis because the findings were not typical of rheumatoid arthritis (no bone erosion and seronegativity) and the patient had already developed other immune-related adverse events (ICI-induced nephritis).

Interventions: After discontinuation of nivolumab, we started treatment with 15 mg daily prednisolone and 1000 mg daily sulfasalazine, although it was ineffective. Hence, we initiated 200 mg biweekly sarilumab.

Outcomes: Following sarilumab administration, polyarthritis improved rapidly, and joint ultrasonography confirmed the rapid improvement of synovitis. Hence, we tapered off the glucocorticoid treatment. No recurrence of renal cell carcinoma was noted for 2 years after the initiation of sarilumab despite no anti-tumor therapy.

Lessons: Sarilumab may serve as a good treatment option for treating refractory ICI-induced polyarthritis. Joint ultrasonography may contribute to the evaluation of ICI-induced polyarthritis and monitoring the effects of treatments.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / diagnostic imaging
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Kidney Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Nephritis / chemically induced
  • Nivolumab / adverse effects
  • Synovitis* / chemically induced
  • Synovitis* / drug therapy
  • Ultrasonography


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Nivolumab
  • sarilumab