The interferons and cell death: guardians of the cell or accomplices of apoptosis?

Semin Cancer Biol. 2000 Apr;10(2):103-11. doi: 10.1006/scbi.2000.0313.


The interferons (IFNs) play an integral role in cellular host defense against virus infection and conceivably tumorigenesis. Despite over 50 years of research, however, the molecular mechanisms underlining IFN action remain to be fully elucidated, in part because of the large number of genes, with an uncharacterized function that appears to be induced by these cytokines. Although the majority of in vitro studies indicate that IFNs antiviral properties involve inhibiting viral replication while maintaining the integrity of the cell, numerous reports have now implicated that a number of IFN-induced genes, IFN transcriptional regulatory factors and IFN signaling molecules can also mediate apoptosis. Here, we review some of what is known about IFN's ability to invoke programmed cell death as part of an intricate arsenal intended to prevent viral infection and malignant disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / physiology*
  • Interferon-gamma / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology


  • Interferon Type I
  • Transcription Factors
  • Interferon-gamma