While there is evidence to suggest other signaling mechanisms exist, the JAK-STAT signaling pathway is the best-characterised and commonly accepted IFN signaling pathway.
The therapeutically used forms are denoted by Greek letters indicating their origin: leukocytes, fibroblasts, and lymphocytes for interferon-alpha, -beta and -gamma, respectively.
As the original cell dies from the cytolytic RNA virus, these thousands of viruses will infect nearby cells. However, these cells have received interferon, which essentially warns these other cells that there's a wolf in the flock of sheep. They then start producing large amounts of a protein known as protein kinase R (or PKR). If a virus infects a cell that has been “pre-warned” by interferon, the PKR is indirectly activated by the dsRNA (actually by 2'-5' oligoadenylate produced by the 2'-5' oligoadenylate-synthetase which is produced due to TLR3 activation), and begins transferring phosphate groups (phosphorylating) to a protein known as eIF-2, a eukaryotic translation initiation factor. After phosphorylation, eIF2 has a reduced ability to initiate translation, the production of proteins coded by cellular mRNA. This prevents viral replication and inhibits normal cell ribosome function, killing both the virus and the host cell if the response is active for a sufficient amount of time. All RNA within the cell is also degraded, preventing the mRNA from being translated by eIF2 if some of the eIF2 failed to be phosphorylated.
Furthermore, interferon leads to upregulation of MHC I and therefore to increased presentation of viral peptides to cytotoxic CD8 T cells, as well as to a change in the proteasome (exchange of some beta subunits by b1i, b2i, b5i - then known as the immunoproteasome) which leads to increased production of MHC I compatible peptides.
Interferon can cause increased p53 activity in virus infected cells. It acts as an inducer and causes increased production of the p53 gene product. This promotes apoptosis, limiting the ability of the virus to spread. Increased levels of transcription are observed even in cells which are not infected, but only infected cells show increased apoptosis. This increased transcription may serve to prepare susceptible cells so they can respond quickly in the case of infection. When p53 is induced by viral presence, it behaves differently than it usually does. Some p53 target genes are expressed under viral load, but others, especially those that respond to DNA damage, aren’t. One of the genes that is not activated is p21, which can promote cell survival. Leaving this gene inactive would help promote the apoptotic effect. Interferon enhances the apoptotic effects of p53, but it is not strictly required. Normal cells exhibit a stronger apoptotic response than cells without p53.
Additionally, interferon has been shown to have therapeutic effect against certain cancers. It is probable that one mechanism of this effect is p53 induction. This could be useful clinically: Interferons could supplement or replace chemotherapy drugs that activate p53 but also cause unwanted side effects..Some of these side effects can be serious, severe and permanent.
In a study of the blocking of interferon (IFN) by the Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV), a group of researchers infected human recombinant IFN-alpha with JEV, DEN-2, and PL406, which are all viruses, and found that some viruses have manifested methods that give them a way around the IFN-alpha/beta response. The viruses need to master these methods so they can have the ability to carry on viral replication and production of new viruses. The ways that viruses find a way around the IFN response is through the inhibition of interferon signaling, production, and the blocking of the functions of IFN-induced proteins.
It is not unusual to find viruses encoding for a multiple number of mechanisms to allow them to elude the IFN response at many different levels. While doing the study with JEV, Lin and his coworkers found that IFN-alpha's inability to block JEV means that JEV may be able to block IFN-alpha signaling which in turn would prevent IFN from having STAT1, STAT2, ISGF3, and IRF-9 signaling. DEN-2 also significantly reduces interferon ability to active JAK-STAT.Some other viral gene products that have been found to have an effect on IFN signaling include EBNA-2, Polyomavirus large T antigen, EBV EBNA1, HPV E7, HCMV, and HHV8. Several poxviruses encode a soluble IFN receptor homologue that acts as a decoy to inhibit the biological activity of IFN, and that activity is for IFN to bind to their cognate receptors on the cell surface to initiate a signaling cascade, known as the Janus kinase(JAK)-signal transducer and activation of transcription(Stat) pathways. For example, a group of researchers found that the B18R protein, which acts as a type 1 IFN receptor and is produced by the vaccinia virus, inhibited IFN's ability to begin the phosphorylation of JAK1 which reduced the antiviral effect of IFN. Some viruses can encode proteins that bind to dsRNA. In a study where the researchers infected Human U cells with reovirus-sigma3 protein and then, using the Western blot test, they found that reovirus-sigma3 protein does bind to dsRNA. Along with that, another study in which the researchers infected mouse L cells with vaccinia virus E3L found that E3L encodes the p25 protein that binds to dsRNA. Without double stranded RNA (dsRNA), because it is bound to by the proteins, it is not able to create IFN-induced PKR and 2'-5' oligoadenylate-synthetase making IFN ineffective. It was also found that JEV was able to inhibit IFN-alpha's ability to activate or create ISGs such as PKR. PKR was not able to be found in the JEV infected cells and PKR RNA levels were found to be lower in those same infected cells, and this disruption of PKR can occur, for example, in cells infected with flavaviruses.
The H5N1 influenza virus, also known as bird flu, has been shown to have resistance to interferon and other anti-viral cytokines. This is part of the reason for its high mortality rates in humans. It is resistant due to a single amino acid mutation in Non-Structual protein 1 (NS1), the precise mechanism of how this confers immunity is unclear (reference is Lethal H5N1 influenza viruses escape host anti-viral cytokine responses, Sang Heui Seo, Nature Med, 2002).
Interferon therapy is used (in combination with chemotherapy and radiation) as a treatment for many cancers.
More than half of hepatitis C patients treated with interferon respond with viral elimination (sustained virological response), better blood tests and better liver histology (detected on biopsy). There is some evidence that giving interferon immediately following infection can prevent chronic hepatitis C. However, people infected by HCV often do not display symptoms of HCV infection until months or years later making early treatment difficult.
Administered intranasally in very low doses, interferon is extensively used in Eastern Europe and Russia as a method to prevent and treat viral respiratory diseases such as cold and flu. However, mechanisms of such action of interferon are not well understood; it is thought that doses must be larger by several orders of magnitude to have any effect on the virus. Consequently, most Western scientists are skeptical of any claims of good efficacy.
Interferon alpha can also be induced with small imidazoquinoline molecules by activation of TLR7 receptor. Aldara (Imiquimod) cream works with this mechanism to induce IFN alpha and IL12 and approved by FDA to treat Actinic keratosis, Superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma, and External Genital Warts.
All known adverse effects are usually reversible and disappear a few days after the therapy has been finished.
More recently, the FDA approved pegylated interferon-alpha, in which polyethylene glycol is added to make the interferon last longer in the body. (Pegylated interferon-alpha-2b was approved in January 2001; pegylated interferon-alpha-2a was approved in October 2002.) The pegylated form is injected once weekly, rather than three times per week for conventional interferon-alpha. Used in combination with the antiviral drug ribavirin, pegylated interferon produces sustained cure rates of 75% or better in people with genotype 2 or 3 hepatitis C (which is easier to treat) but still less than 50% in people with genotype 1 (which is most common in the U.S. and Western Europe).
Interferon-beta (Interferon beta-1a and Interferon beta-1b) is used in the treatment and control of multiple sclerosis. By an as-yet-unknown mechanism, interferon-beta inhibits the production of Th1 cytokines and the activation of monocytes.
Meanwhile, the British virologist Alick Isaacs and the Swiss researcher Jean Lindenmann, at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, noticed an interference effect caused by heat-inactivated influenza virus on the growth of live influenza virus in chicken egg membranes in a nutritive solution chorioallantoic membrane. They published their results in 1957; in this paper they coined the term ‘interferon’, and today that specific interfering agent is known as a ‘Type I interferon’.
Nagano’s work was never fully appreciated in the scientific community; possibly because it was printed in French, but also because his in vivo system was perhaps too complex to provide clear results in the characterisation and purification of interferon. As time passed, Nagano became aware that his work had not been widely recognised, yet did not actively seek revaluation of his status in field of interferon research. As such, the majority of the credit for discovery of the interferon goes to Isaacs and Lindenmann, with whom there is no record of Nagano ever having made personal contact.
Global sales ~ 5 billion US $. The second most successful pharmaceutical ever to come from genetic engineering.
|Generic name||Trade name|
|Interferon alpha 2a||Roferon A|
|Interferon alpha 2b§||Intron A|
|Human leukocyte Interferon-alpha (HuIFN-alpha-Le)||Multiferon|
|Interferon beta 1a, liquid form||Rebif|
|Interferon beta 1a, lyophilized||Avonex|
|Interferon beta 1a, biogeneric (Iran)||Cinnovex|
|Interferon beta 1b||Betaseron / Betaferon|
|Pegylated interferon alpha 2a||Pegasys|
|Pegylated interferon alpha 2a (Egypt)||Reiferon Retard|
|Pegylated interferon alpha 2b||PegIntron|
|Pegylated interferon alpha 2b plus ribavirin (Canada)||Pegetron|
Pestka S. et al, Immun Rev, (2004) 202, pp. 8-32