Baricitinib is a Janus kinase (JAK) 1 and 2 inhibitor approved for treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The JAK/STAT system is essential in the intracellular signaling of different cytokines and in the activation process of the monocyte lineage. This study verifies the effects of baricitinib on STAT phosphorylation in monocytes of RA patients and evaluates the correlation between STAT phosphorylation and response to therapy. We evaluated the disease activity of patients (DAS28CRP) at baseline (T0) and after 4 and 12 weeks (T1-T3) of treatment with baricitinib, dividing them into responders (n = 7) and non-responders (n = 7) based on the reduction of DAS28CRP between T0 and T1 of at least 1.2 points. Through flow cytometry, STAT1 phosphorylation was analyzed at T0/T1/T3 in monocytes, at basal conditions and after IL2, IFNα, and IL6 stimulation. We showed that monocyte frequency decreased from T0 to T1 only in responders. Regarding the phosphorylation of STAT1, we observed a tendency for higher basal pSTAT1 in monocytes of non-responder patients and, after 4 weeks, a significant reduction of cytokine-induced pSTAT1 in monocytes of responders compared with non-responders. The single IFNα stimulation only partially recapitulated the differences in STAT1 phosphorylation between the two patient subgroups. Finally, responders showed an increased IFN signature at baseline compared with non-responders. These results may suggest that monocyte frequency and STAT1 phosphorylation in circulating monocytes could represent early markers of response to baricitinib therapy.
Keywords: ISGs; JAKi; STAT; interferon; monocytes; rheumatoid arthritis.
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