Cytokines of birds: conserved functions--a largely different look

J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2001 Dec;21(12):993-1010. doi: 10.1089/107999001317205123.


Targeted disruptions of the mouse genes for cytokines, cytokine receptors, or components of cytokine signaling cascades convincingly revealed the important roles of these molecules in immunologic processes. Cytokines are used at present as drugs to fight chronic microbial infections and cancer in humans, and they are being evaluated as immune response modifiers to improve vaccines. Until recently, only a few avian cytokines have been characterized, and potential applications thus have remained limited to mammals. Classic approaches to identify cytokine genes in birds proved difficult because sequence conservation is generally low. As new technology and high throughput sequencing became available, this situation changed quickly. We review here recent work that led to the identification of genes for the avian homologs of interferon-alpha/beta (IFN-alpha/beta) and IFN-gamma, various interleukins (IL), and several chemokines. From the initial data on the biochemical properties of these molecules, a picture is emerging that shows that avian and mammalian cytokines may perform similar tasks, although their primary structures in most cases are remarkably different.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Birds / genetics
  • Birds / immunology
  • Chemokines / genetics
  • Chemokines / physiology
  • Chickens / genetics
  • Chickens / immunology*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / pharmacology
  • Cytokines / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Interferons / genetics
  • Interferons / physiology
  • Interleukins / genetics
  • Interleukins / physiology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Virus Diseases / immunology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukins
  • Interferons