A paramyxovirus SV5 mutant (rSV5-P/V-CPI-) that encodes 6 naturally-occurring P/V gene substitutions is a potent inducer of type I interferon (IFN) and is restricted for low moi growth, two phenotypes not seen with WT SV5. In this study, we have compared the IFN sensitivity of WT SV5 and the rSV5-P/V-CPI- mutant in tumor cell lines and in cultures of normal primary cells. We have tested the hypothesis that differences in IFN induction elicited by WT rSV5 and rSV5-P/V-CPI- are responsible for differences in low moi growth and spread. In contrast to WT SV5, low moi infection of A549 lung carcinoma cells with rSV5-P/V-CPI- resulted in a plateau of virus production by 24-48 h pi when secreted IFN levels were between approximately 100 and 1000 U/ml. Gene microarray and RT-PCR analyses identified IFN genes and IFN-stimulated genes whose expression were increased by infection of A549 cells with WT and P/V mutant viruses. Restricted low moi growth and spread of rSV5-P/V-CPI- in A549 cells was relieved in the presence of neutralizing antibodies to IFN-beta but not TNF-alpha. When A549 or MDA-MB-435 breast tumor cells were pretreated with IFN, both WT and P/V mutant viruses showed delayed spread and approximately 10-fold reduction in virus yield, but infections were not eliminated. Using normal primary human epithelial cells that have undergone limited passage in culture, WT rSV5 and rSV5-P/V-CPI- displayed high moi growth properties that were similar to that seen in A549 cells. However, IFN pretreatment of these primary cells as well as normal human lung cells eliminated low moi spread of both mutant and WT rSV5 infections. Together, these data demonstrate that SV5 growth in normal primary human cells is highly sensitive to IFN compared to growth in some tumor cell lines, regardless of whether the P/V gene is WT or mutant. These results suggest a model in which spread of WT SV5 in normal human cells is dependent on the ability of the virus to prevent IFN synthesis. The implications of these results for the use of recombinant paramyxoviruses as vectors are discussed.