Antiviral actions of interferon. Interferon-regulated cellular proteins and their surprisingly selective antiviral activities

Virology. 1991 Jul;183(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/0042-6822(91)90112-o.


Considerable progress has been made in the understanding of the molecular biology of the human interferon system. The genes encoding the interferons, their receptors, and the proteins that mediate many of their biological effects have been molecularly cloned and characterized. The availability of complete cDNA clones of components of the interferon systems has contributed significantly to our understanding of both the biology and the biochemistry of the antiviral actions of interferons. At the biological level, the antiviral effects of interferon may be viewed to be virus-type nonspecific. That is, treatment of cells with one type or even subspecies of interferon often leads to the generation of an antiviral state effective against a wide array of different RNA and DNA animal viruses. However, at the biochemical level, the antiviral action of interferon is often virus-type selective. That is, the apparent molecular mechanism which is primarily responsible for the inhibition of virus replication may differ considerably between virus types, and even host cells. For example, the IFN-regulated Mx protein selectively inhibits influenza virus but not other viruses when constitutively expressed in mouse cells. The IFN-regulated 2',5'-oligoadenylate synthetase selectively inhibits EMC and mengo viruses, two picornaviruses, but not viruses of other families when constitutively expressed in transfected cells. Some viruses are typically insensitive to the antiviral effects of interferon, both in cell culture and in intact animals. This lack of sensitivity to IFN may result from a virus-mediated direct antagonism of the interferon system. For example, in the case of adenovirus, the activation of the IFN-regulated RNA-dependent P1/elF-2 protein kinase is blocked by the virus-associated VA RNA. The relative sensitivity to interferon of different animal viruses varies appreciably. All three of the basic components required to measure an antiviral response may play a role in determining the relative effectiveness of the antiviral response: the species of interferon administered; the kind of cell treated; and, the type of virus used to challenge the interferon-treated host cell. Thus, the relative sensitivity to interferon observed for a particular interferon-cell-virus combination is likely the result of the equilibrium between the many agonists and antagonists which contribute to the overall response. That is, the relative sensitivity of a virus to the inhibitory action of IFN is governed by the qualitative nature and quantitative amount of the individual IFN-regulated cell proteins that may collectively contribute to the inhibition of virus replication.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 2',5'-Oligoadenylate Synthetase / physiology*
  • Animals
  • GTP-Binding Proteins*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interferons / physiology*
  • Myxovirus Resistance Proteins
  • Protein Kinases / physiology*
  • Proteins / physiology*
  • eIF-2 Kinase


  • Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Mx1 protein, mouse
  • Myxovirus Resistance Proteins
  • Proteins
  • Interferons
  • Protein Kinases
  • eIF-2 Kinase
  • 2',5'-Oligoadenylate Synthetase
  • GTP-Binding Proteins