The interferons (IFN) are one of the body's natural defensive responses to such foreign components as microbes, tumors, and antigens. The IFN response begins with the production of the IFN proteins (alpha, beta, and gamma), which then induce the antiviral, antimicrobial, antitumor, and immunomodulatory actions of IFN. Recent advances have led to Food and Drug Administration approval of five clinical indications for IFN. Interferon alfa is approved for hairy-cell leukemia, condyloma acuminatum, Kaposi's sarcoma in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and non-A, non-B (type C) viral hepatitis. Interferon gamma has properties distinctive from those of IFNs alpha and beta and is approved as an immunomodulatory treatment for chronic granulomatous disease. Promising clinical results with IFNs have also been reported for basal cell carcinoma, chronic myelogenous leukemia, cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, early human immunodeficiency virus infection, hepatitis B, and laryngeal papillomatosis. Future clinical uses of IFNs may emphasize combination therapy with other cytokines, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hyperthermia, or hormones.