Leflunomide, a potent disease-modifying antirheumatic drug of the isoxazole class, exhibits antiinflammatory, antiproliferative, and immunosuppressive effects by largely unknown mechanisms, although alterations of pyrimidine synthesis have been proposed. Successful immune responsiveness requires T cell activation by interaction with antigen-presenting cells (APCs), and integrin activation and formation of an immunologic synapse (IS). In this study, we evaluated the impact of the active leflunomide metabolite teriflunomide on T cell integrin activation, evolution of the IS, and antigen-specific formation of stable T cell/APC conjugates.


Effects of pharmacologic concentrations of teriflunomide on CD3/CD28- and lymphocyte function–associated antigen 1–induced signal transduction and activation of primary human T cells were investigated. Furthermore, T cells were stimulated with superantigen- and antigen-pulsed APCs to study relocalization of molecules to the IS and T cell/APC conjugate formation.


Teriflunomide inhibited T cell receptor (TCR)/CD3–mediated calcium mobilization, but other critical T cell signaling events, including activation of MAPK and NF-κB, remained unaltered. In contrast, inhibition of TCR/CD3-triggered β1,2 integrin avidity and integrin-mediated costimulation (outside-in signaling) by teriflunomide revealed a striking interference with integrin function that was independent of altered pyrimidine synthesis. Moreover, teriflunomide abolished molecule relocalization to the IS and induction of T cell/APC conjugates.


These data show that the active metabolite of leflunomide prevents the interaction of T cells with APCs to form an IS. Since IS formation is crucial for eliciting an immune response, this novel mechanism could underlie the beneficial effects of leflunomide in immune-mediated disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.