Objectives Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) has recently been described as a novel downstream mediator of the pro-fibrotic effects of transforming growth factor-β. Although JAK2 inhibitors are in clinical use for myelodysplastic syndromes, patients often rapidly develop resistance. Tumour cells can escape the therapeutic effects of selective JAK2 inhibitors by mutation-independent transactivation of JAK2 by JAK1. Here, we used selective JAK2 inhibition as a model to test the hypothesis that chronic treatment may provoke resistance by facilitating non-physiological signalling pathways in fibroblasts.
Methods The antifibrotic effects of long-term treatment with selective JAK2 inhibitors and reactivation of JAK2 signalling by JAK1-dependent transphosphorylation was analysed in cultured fibroblasts and experimental dermal and pulmonary fibrosis. Combined JAK1/JAK2 inhibition and co-treatment with an HSP90 inhibitor were evaluated as strategies to overcome resistance.
Results The antifibrotic effects of selective JAK2 inhibitors on fibroblasts decreased with prolonged treatment as JAK2 signalling was reactivated by JAK1-dependent transphosphorylation of JAK2. This reactivation could be prevented by HSP90 inhibition, which destabilised JAK2 protein, or with combined JAK1/JAK2 inhibitors. Treatment with combined JAK1/JAK2 inhibitors or with JAK2 inhibitors in combination with HSP90 inhibitors was more effective than monotherapy with JAK2 inhibitors in bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis and in adTBR-induced dermal fibrosis.
Conclusion Fibroblasts can develop resistance to chronic treatment with JAK2 inhibitors by induction of non-physiological JAK1-dependent transactivation of JAK2 and that inhibition of this compensatory signalling pathway, for example, by co-inhibition of JAK1 or HSP90 is important to maintain the antifibrotic effects of JAK2 inhibition with long-term treatment.
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Contributors Design of the study: YZ, JHWD.
Acquisition of data: YZ, RL, C-WC, TM, CD, AD, CB, AR.
Interpretation of data: YZ, RL, C-WC, TM, CD, AD, CB, AR, OD, GS.
Manuscript preparation: YZ, JHWD.
Provided essential materials: AR, KG.
Funding OD has consulted for or has received research funding from 4D Science, Actelion, Active Biotech, Bayer-Schering, Biogen, Biovitrium, BMS, Boehringer, EpiPharm, Ergonex, GSK, Inventiva, Medac, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche/Genentech, Sanofi/Genzyme, Serodapharm, Sinoxa and United BioSource Corporation; JHWD has consultancy relationships and/or has received research funding from Actelion, BMS, Celgene, Bayer Pharma, Boehringer Ingelheim, JB Therapeutics, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, UCB, GSK, Array Biopharma, Galapagos, Inventiva and Active Biotech in the area of potential treatments of SSc and is stock owner of 4D Science GmbH.
Competing interests None declared.
Ethics approval Erlangen-Nuremberg.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.