Scientific Article

Janus kinase 2 inhibition by pacritinib as potential therapeutic target for liver fibrosis


Background and Aims
Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) signaling is increased in human and experimental liver fibrosis with portal hypertension. JAK2 inhibitors, such as pacritinib, are already in advanced clinical development for other indications and might also be effective in liver fibrosis. Here, we investigated the antifibrotic role of the JAK2 inhibitor pacritinib on activated hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) in vitro and in two animal models of liver fibrosis in vivo.

Approach and Results
Transcriptome analyses of JAK2 in human livers and other targets of pacritinib have been shown to correlate with profibrotic factors. Although transcription of JAK2 correlated significantly with type I collagen expression and other profibrotic genes, no correlation was observed for interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase and colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor. Pacritinib decreased gene expression of fibrosis markers in mouse primary and human-derived HSCs in vitro. Moreover, pacritinib decreased the proliferation, contraction, and migration of HSCs. C57BL/6J mice received ethanol in drinking water (16%) or Western diet in combination with carbon tetrachloride intoxication for 7 weeks to induce alcoholic or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Pacritinib significantly reduced liver fibrosis assessed by gene expression and Sirius red staining, as well as HSC activation assessed by alpha-smooth muscle actin immunostaining in fibrotic mice. Furthermore, pacritinib decreased the gene expression of hepatic steatosis markers in experimental alcoholic liver disease. Additionally, pacritinib protected against liver injury as assessed by aminotransferase levels.

This study demonstrates that the JAK2 inhibitor pacritinib may be promising for the treatment of alcoholic and nonalcoholic liver fibrosis and may be therefore relevant for human pathology.

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Torres, S, Ortiz, C, Bachtler, N, Gu, W, Grünewald, LD, Kraus, N, et al. Janus kinase 2 inhibition by pacritinib as potential therapeutic target for liver fibrosis. Hepatology. 2022; 00: 1– 13.

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