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Cytokines in Sjögren's syndrome: potential therapeutic targets


The dysregulated cytokine network in Sjögren's Syndrome (SS) is reflected by local and systemic overexpression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and absent or low levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines. To date, the use of cytokine based therapies in SS has been disappointing. Oral administration of low dose interferon (IFN) α showed inconsistent efficacy in various studies and failed to achieve the primary endpoint in a pivotal randomised controlled trial. Similarly, neither of the two tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α blockers tested (etanercept and infliximab) showed efficacy in placebo controlled trials. Although the rationale for low dose oral IFN treatment has not been firmly established, TNF blockade was based on solid preclinical data. Therefore, the reason for the lack of efficacy is unclear, but recent data suggest that unexpected biological effects of TNF antagonists may have contributed to this. Cytokines, given their central role in the pathogenesis of SS, remain attractive targets for future treatments, despite the disappointing early results. Inflammatory cytokines are obvious candidates, and agents against several of them are available or under development for other autoimmune diseases similar to SS. New candidate cytokines such as IL-17 and IL-12 and/or IL-23 may provide promising targets for SS. Additionally, as an alternative to systemic treatment, which has the risk of potentially severe side effects, the use of local cytokine directed therapy should be explored.

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