BACKGROUND Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is an autoimmune, connective tissue disease characterized by vasculopathy and fibrosis of the skin and internal organs.METHODS We randomized 15 participants with early diffuse cutaneous SSc to tofacitinib 5 mg twice a day or matching placebo in a phase I/II double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The primary outcome measure was safety and tolerability at or before week 24. To understand the changes in gene expression associated with tofacitinib treatment in each skin cell population, we compared single-cell gene expression in punch skin biopsies obtained at baseline and 6 weeks following the initiation of treatment.RESULTS Tofacitinib was well tolerated; no participants experienced grade 3 or higher adverse events before or at week 24. Trends in efficacy outcome measures favored tofacitnib. Baseline gene expression in fibroblast and keratinocyte subpopulations indicated IFN-activated gene expression. Tofacitinib inhibited IFN-regulated gene expression in SFRP2/DPP4 fibroblasts (progenitors of myofibroblasts) and in MYOC/CCL19, representing adventitial fibroblasts (P < 0.05), as well as in the basal and keratinized layers of the epidermis. Gene expression in macrophages and DCs indicated inhibition of STAT3 by tofacitinib (P < 0.05). No clinically meaningful inhibition of T cells and endothelial cells in the skin tissue was observed.CONCLUSION These results indicate that mesenchymal and epithelial cells of a target organ in SSc, not the infiltrating lymphocytes, may be the primary focus for therapeutic effects of a Janus kinase inhibitor.TRIAL REGISTRATION ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03274076.FUNDING Pfizer, NIH/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) R01 AR070470, NIH/NIAMS K24 AR063120, Taubman Medical Research Institute and NIH P30 AR075043, and NIH/NIAMS K01 AR072129.


Dinesh Khanna, Cristina Padilla, Lam C. Tsoi, Vivek Nagaraja, Puja P. Khanna, Tracy Tabib, J. Michelle Kahlenberg, Amber Young, Suiyuan Huang, Johann E. Gudjonsson, David A. Fox, Robert Lafyatis


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