Key Points

  • The JAK1/2 inhibitor ruxolitinib dampens inflammation in HLH via IFN-γ–dependent and –independent mechanisms.

  • Ruxolitinib exerts its beneficial effects in HLH by targeting T-cell and neutrophil activation and tissue infiltration.


Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is an often-fatal disorder characterized by the overactivation of T cells and macrophages that excessively produce proinflammatory cytokines, including interferon-γ (IFN-γ). Previously, we reported that the JAK inhibitor ruxolitinib dampens T-cell activation and lessens inflammation in a model of HLH in which perforin-deficient (Prf1−/−) mice are infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). Ruxolitinib inhibits signaling downstream of IFN-γ, as well as several other JAK-dependent cytokines. As a consequence, it remained unclear whether ruxolitinib was exerting its beneficial effects in HLH by inhibiting IFN-γ signaling or by targeting signaling initiated by other proinflammatory cytokines. To address this question, we compared the effects of ruxolitinib with those obtained using an IFN-γ–neutralizing antibody (αIFN-γ) in 2 murine HLH models. In both models, ruxolitinib and αIFN-γ reduced inflammation-associated anemia, indicating that ruxolitinib operates in an IFN-γ–dependent manner to reverse this HLH manifestation. In contrast, the number and activation status of T cells and neutrophils, as well as their infiltration into tissues, were significantly reduced following treatment with ruxolitinib, but they remained unchanged or were increased following treatment with αIFN-γ. Notably, despite discontinuation of ruxolitinib, LCMV-infected Prf1−/− mice exhibited enhanced survival compared with mice in which αIFN-γ was discontinued. This protective effect could be mimicked by transient treatment with αIFN-γ and a neutrophil-depleting antibody. Thus, ruxolitinib operates through IFN-γ–dependent and -independent mechanisms to dampen HLH by targeting the deleterious effects of T cells and neutrophils, with the latter representing an unappreciated and understudied cell type that contributes to HLH pathogenesis.

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