, Volume 79, Issue 16, pp 1741–1755 | Cite as

Targeting Granulocyte-Monocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor Signaling in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Future Prospects

  • Chiara Crotti
  • Elena Agape
  • Andrea Becciolini
  • Martina Biggioggero
  • Ennio Giulio FavalliEmail author
Review Article


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic, autoimmune disease that affects joints and extra-articular structures. In the last decade, the management of this chronic disease has dramatically changed with the introduction of several targeted mechanisms of action, such as tumor necrosis factor-α inhibition, T-cell costimulation inhibition, B-cell depletion, interleukin-6 blockade, and Janus kinase inhibition. Beyond its well-known hematopoietic role on the proliferation and differentiation of myeloid cells, granulocyte-monocyte colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) is a proinflammatory mediator acting as a cytokine, with a proven pathogenetic role in autoimmune disorders such as RA. In vitro studies clearly demonstrated the effect of GM-CSF in the communication between resident tissue cells and activated macrophages at chronic inflammation sites, and confirmed the elevation of GM-CSF levels in inflamed synovial tissue of RA subjects compared with healthy controls. Moreover, a pivotal role of GM-CSF in the perception of pain has been clearly confirmed. Therefore, blockade of the GM-CSF pathway by monoclonal antibodies directed against the cytokine itself or its receptor has been investigated in refractory RA patients. Overall, the safety profile of GM-CSF inhibitors seems to be very favorable, with a particularly low incidence of infectious complications. The efficacy of this new mechanism of action is comparable with main competitors, even though the response rates reported in phase II randomized controlled trials (RCTs) appear to be numerically lower than the response rates observed with other biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs already licensed for RA. Mainly because of this reason, nowadays the development program of most GM-CSF blockers for RA has been discontinued, with the exception of otilimab, which is under evaluation in two phase III RCTs with a head-to head non-inferiority design against tofacitinib. These studies will likely be useful for better defining the potential role of GM-CSF inhibition in the therapeutic algorithm of RA. On the other hand, the potential role of GM-CSF blockade in the treatment of other rheumatic diseases is now under investigation. Phase II trials are ongoing with the aim of evaluating mavrilimumab for the treatment of giant cell arteritis, and namilumab for the treatment of spondyloarthritis. Moreover, GM-CSF inhibitors have been tested in osteoarthritis and diffuse subtype of systemic sclerosis. This review aims to describe in detail the available evidence on the GM-CSF blocking pathway in RA management, paving the way to a possible alternative treatment for RA patients. Novel insights regarding the potential use of GM-CSF blockers for alternative indications will be also addressed.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Chiara Crotti, Elena Agape, Andrea Becciolini, Martina Biggioggero and Ennio Giulio Favalli declare no conflicts of interest.




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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of RheumatologyASST Gateano Pini-CTOMilanItaly
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Science and Health CommunityUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly

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