Retinoic-acid-orphan-receptor-C (RORC) is a master regulator of Th17 cells, which are pathogenic in several autoimmune diseases. Genetic Rorc deficiency in mice, while preventing autoimmunity, causes early lethality due to metastatic thymic T cell lymphomas. We sought to determine whether pharmacological RORC inhibition could be an effective and safe therapy for autoimmune diseases by evaluating its effects on Th17 cell functions and intrathymic T cell development. RORC inhibitors effectively inhibited Th17 differentiation and IL-17A production, and delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions. In vitro, RORC inhibitors induced apoptosis, as well as Bcl2l1 and BCL2L1 mRNA downregulation, in mouse and nonhuman primate thymocytes, respectively. Chronic, 13-week RORC inhibitor treatment in rats caused progressive thymic alterations in all analyzed rats similar to those in Rorc-deficient mice prior to T cell lymphoma development. One rat developed thymic cortical hyperplasia with preneoplastic features, including increased mitosis and reduced IKAROS expression, albeit without skewed T cell clonality. In summary, pharmacological inhibition of RORC not only blocks Th17 cell development and related cytokine production, but also recapitulates thymic aberrations seen in Rorc-deficient mice. While RORC inhibition may offer an effective therapeutic principle for Th17-mediated diseases, T cell lymphoma with chronic therapy remains an apparent risk.
Christine Guntermann, Alessandro Piaia, Marie-Laure Hamel, Diethilde Theil, Tina Rubic-Schneider, Alberto del Rio-Espinola, Linda Dong, Andreas Billich, Klemens Kaupmann, Janet Dawson, Klemens Hoegenauer, David Orain, Samuel Hintermann, Rowan Stringer, Dhavalkumar D. Patel, Arno Doelemeyer, Mark Deurinck, Jens Schümann