Autoimmunity induced by interferon-alpha therapy for chronic viral hepatitis

Biomed Pharmacother. 1999 Jun;53(5-6):242-54. doi: 10.1016/S0753-3322(99)80095-X.


Type I interferons, which are mostly alpha-interferons (either as single agents or in combination with antiviral drugs), are currently the standard therapy for chronic viral hepatitis B, B/D, and C. Side-effects are not uncommon and include exacerbation of pre-existing autoimmune disorders or the de novo induction of autoimmunity. These adverse effects are attributed to the immunomodulatory properties of type I interferons, and should be distinguished from autoimmunity associated with chronic viral hepatitis in which interferon treatment may indeed be beneficial. The major autoimmune side-effects of interferon therapy for chronic viral hepatitis are thyroid or liver disease. Therefore, screening for thyroid antibodies and auto-antibodies indicative of autoimmune hepatitis both before, during, and after interferon therapy is strongly recommended. The presence of high concentrations of thyroid auto-antibodies or antibodies associated with autoimmune hepatitis can be contraindicative to interferon therapy. However, treatment is not contraindicated in viral hepatitis (in particular chronic hepatitis C) associated with autoimmune phenomena--including low-titer thyroid antibodies or other non-organ specific auto-antibodies. If interferon-induced autoimmunity occurs, the necessity of therapy has to be balanced carefully against the risks of autoimmune disease. Further research is needed to identify the factors which determine susceptibility to interferon-associated autoimmunity in individual patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmunity / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Hepatitis, Viral, Human / complications*
  • Hepatitis, Viral, Human / therapy
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / adverse effects*
  • Interferon Type I / therapeutic use
  • Recombinant Proteins


  • Interferon Type I
  • Recombinant Proteins