BackgroundIn systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), immune complexes (ICs) containing self-derived nucleic acids trigger the synthesis of proinflammatory cytokines by immune cells. We asked how an interleukin (IL)-1 receptor-associated kinase 4 small molecule inhibitor (IRAK4i) affects RNA-IC-induced cytokine production compared with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).MethodsPlasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) and natural killer (NK) cells were isolated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of healthy individuals. PBMCs from SLE patients and healthy individuals were depleted of monocytes. Cells were stimulated with RNA-containing IC (RNA-IC) in the presence or absence of IRAK4i I92 or HCQ, and cytokines were measured by immunoassay or flow cytometry. Transcriptome sequencing was performed on RNA-IC-stimulated pDCs from healthy individuals to assess the effect of IRAK4i and HCQ.ResultsIn healthy individuals, RNA-IC induced interferon (IFN)-α, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, IL-6, IL-8, IFN-γ, macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)1-α, and MIP1-β production in pDC and NK cell cocultures. IFN-α production was selective for pDCs, whereas both pDCs and NK cells produced TNF-α. IRAK4i reduced the pDC and NK cell-derived cytokine production by 74–95%. HCQ interfered with cytokine production in pDCs but not in NK cells. In monocyte-depleted PBMCs, IRAK4i blocked cytokine production more efficiently than HCQ. Following RNA-IC activation of pDCs, 975 differentially expressed genes were observed (false discovery rate (FDR) < 0.05), with many connected to cytokine pathways, cell regulation, and apoptosis. IRAK4i altered the expression of a larger number of RNA-IC-induced genes than did HCQ (492 versus 65 genes).ConclusionsThe IRAK4i I92 exhibits a broader inhibitory effect than HCQ on proinflammatory pathways triggered by RNA-IC, suggesting IRAK4 inhibition as a therapeutic option in SLE.