Statins, which are used as cholesterol-lowering agents, have pleiotropic immunomodulatory properties. Although beneficial effects of statins have been reported in autoimmune diseases, the mechanisms of these immunomodulatory effects are still poorly understood. Type I interferons (IFNs) and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (PDCs) represent key molecular and cellular pathogenic components in autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Therefore, PDCs may be a specific target of statins in therapeutic strategies against SLE. This study was undertaken to investigate the immunomodulatory mechanisms of statins that target the IFN response in PDCs.


We isolated human blood PDCs by flow cytometry and examined the effects of simvastatin and pitavastatin on PDC activation, IFNα production, and intracellular signaling.


Statins inhibited IFNα production profoundly and tumor necrosis factor α production modestly in human PDCs in response to Toll-like receptor ligands. The inhibitory effect on IFNα production was reversed by geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate and was mimicked by either geranylgeranyl transferase inhibitor or Rho kinase inhibitor, suggesting that statins exert their inhibitory actions through geranylgeranylated Rho inactivation. Statins inhibited the expression of phosphorylated p38 MAPK and Akt, and the inhibitory effect on the IFN response was through the prevention of nuclear translocation of IFN regulatory factor 7. In addition, statins had an inhibitory effect on both IFNα production by PDCs from SLE patients and SLE serum–induced IFNα production.


Our findings suggest a specific role of statins in controlling type I IFN production and a therapeutic potential in IFN-related autoimmune diseases such as SLE.