Treatment of Persistent Erythema Multiforme with Janus Kinase Inhibition and the Role of Interferon Gamma and Interleukin 15 in Its Pathogenesis

Michael J. Murphy, Diana Gruenstein, Alice Wang, Danielle Peterson, Jacob Levitt, Brett King, William Damsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Importance: Persistent erythema multiforme (PEM) is poorly understood and lacks effective therapies other than glucocorticoids. Objective: To report outcomes following treatment of PEM with Janus kinase (JAK) inhibition and to elucidate cytokine drivers of erythema multiforme (EM). Design, Setting, and Participants: This was a retrospective case series of 4 patients with PEM treated with tofacitinib and/or upadacitinib in 2015 to 2021 at the dermatology clinics of 2 major tertiary referral centers. Four consecutive patients with PEM refractory to multiple treatment approaches were treated. In 1 patient, skin biopsy specimens were obtained for RNA sequencing and proteomic analysis before and during treatment. Molecular findings were validated through RNA in situ hybridization analysis of cytokine expression in biopsy specimens from a total of 12 patients with EM (3 treated with tofacitinib in this study and 9 historic samples). Interventions: Treatment with tofacitinib, 5 to 10 mg, twice daily or upadacitinib, 15 mg, once daily. Main Outcomes and Measures: Change in PEM activity was assessed in all 4 patients treated with a JAK inhibitor. Median (range) follow-up was 20.5 months (10.0-36.0 mo). Results: The study population of 4 female patients had a mean (SD) age of 46.2 (13.7) years and a mean (SD) disease duration of 21.75 (11.30) years. Marked clinical improvement was noted in all 4 patients. In 1 patient with a robust improvement following treatment with tofacitinib, RNA sequencing identified interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and interleukin 15 (IL-15) as cytokines with activity both highly upregulated at baseline in lesional skin and subsequently suppressed following tofacitinib treatment. Measurement of IFNG- and IL15-positive cells in additional EM biopsy specimens of 12 patients showed significant upregulation of IFNG (8.72 cells per mm; 95% CI, 2.60-14.84) and IL15 (14.13 cells per mm; 95% CI, 0.14-28.11) compared with normal skin (P =.008 and P =.045, respectively). Conclusions and Relevance: The results of this case series study suggest that JAK inhibition may be effective in treating PEM and that IFN-γ and IL-15 may be important cytokine mediators of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1477-1482
Number of pages6
JournalJAMA Dermatology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Treatment of Persistent Erythema Multiforme with Janus Kinase Inhibition and the Role of Interferon Gamma and Interleukin 15 in Its Pathogenesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this