Ann. Rheum. Dis. 77 (7) 1070-1077 [2018-07-00; online 2018-02-23]
Genetic variants in the transcription factor STAT4 are associated with increased susceptibility to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and a more severe disease phenotype. This study aimed to clarify how the SLE-associated intronic STAT4 risk allele rs7574865[T] affects the function of immune cells in SLE. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated from 52 genotyped patients with SLE. Phosphorylation of STAT4 (pSTAT4) and STAT1 (pSTAT1) in response to interferon (IFN)-α, IFN-γ or interleukin (IL)-12, total levels of STAT4, STAT1 and T-bet, and frequency of IFN-γ+ cells on IL-12 stimulation were determined by flow cytometry in subsets of immune cells before and after preactivation of cells with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) and IL-2. Cellular responses and phenotypes were correlated to STAT4 risk allele carriership. Janus kinase inhibitors (JAKi) selective for TYK2 (TYK2i) or JAK2 (JAK2i) were evaluated for inhibition of IL-12 or IFN-γ-induced activation of SLE PBMCs. In resting PBMCs, the STAT4 risk allele was neither associated with total levels of STAT4 or STAT1, nor cytokine-induced pSTAT4 or pSTAT1. Following PHA/IL-2 activation, CD8+ T cells from STAT4 risk allele carriers displayed increased levels of STAT4 resulting in increased pSTAT4 in response to IL-12 and IFN-α, and an augmented IL-12-induced IFN-γ production in CD8+ and CD4+ T cells. The TYK2i and the JAK2i efficiently blocked IL-12 and IFN-γ-induced activation of PBMCs from STAT4 risk patients, respectively. T cells from patients with SLE carrying the STAT4 risk allele rs7574865[T] display an augmented response to IL-12 and IFN-α. This subset of patients may benefit from JAKi treatment.