Induction and regulation of IFNs during viral infections

J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2004 Aug;24(8):439-54. doi: 10.1089/1079990041689665.


Interferons (IFN)s are involved in numerous immune interactions during viral infections and contribute to both induction and regulation of innate and adaptive antiviral mechanisms. IFNs play a pivotal rule in the outcome of a viral infection, as demonstrated by the impaired resistance against different viruses in mice deficient for the receptors IFNAR-2 and IFNGR. During viral infections, IFNs are involved in numerous immune interactions as inducers, regulators, and effectors of both innate and adaptive antiviral mechanisms. IFN-alpha/beta is produced rapidly when viral factors, such as envelope glycoproteins, CpG DNA, or dsRNA, interact with cellular pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs), such as mannose receptors, toll-like receptors (TLRs), and cytosolic receptors. These host-virus interactions signal downstream to activate transcription factors needed to achieve expression from IFN-alpha/beta genes. These include IFN regulatory factor-3 (IRF-3), IRF-5, IRF-7, c-Jun/ATF-2, and NF-kappaB. In contrast, IFN-gamma is induced by receptor-mediated stimulation or in response to early produced cytokines, including interleukin-2 (IL-12), IL-18, and IFN-alpha/beta, or by stimulation through T cell receptors (TCRs) or natural killer (NK) cell receptors. IFNs signal through transmembrane receptors, activating mainly Jak-Stat pathways but also other signal transduction pathways. Cytokine and TCR-induced IFN-gamma expression uses distinct signal transduction pathways involving such transcription factors as NFAT, Stats and NF-kappaB. This results in induction and activation of numerous intrinsic antiviral factors, such as RNA-activated protein kinase (PKR), the 2-5A system, Mx proteins, and several apoptotic pathways. In addition, IFNs modulate distinct aspects of both innate and adaptive immunity. Thus, IFN-alpha/beta and IFN-gamma affect activities of macrophages, NK cells, dendritic cells (DC), and T cells by enhancing antigen presentation, cell trafficking, and cell differentiation and expression profiles, ultimately resulting in enhanced antiviral effector functions. This review focuses on the latest findings regarding induction and regulation of IFNs, primarily during the early phase of an antiviral immune response. Both cellular and molecular aspects are discussed from the perspective of host-virus interactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Interferons / genetics
  • Interferons / immunology*
  • Interferons / metabolism*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics
  • Virus Diseases / genetics
  • Virus Diseases / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / virology


  • Interferons