Interferon-alpha and cancer: mechanisms of action and new perspectives of clinical use

Biochimie. 2007 Jun-Jul;89(6-7):884-93. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2007.04.006. Epub 2007 Apr 21.


Interferons-alpha (IFN-alpha) are pleiotropic cytokines belonging to type I IFNs, extensively used in the treatment of patients with some types of cancer and viral disease. IFN-alpha can affect tumor cell functions by multiple mechanisms. In addition, these cytokines can promote the differentiation and activity of host immune cells. Early studies in mouse tumor models showed the importance of host immune mechanisms in the generation of a long-lasting antitumor response after treatment of the animals with IFN-alpha/beta. Subsequently, an ensemble of studies based on the use of genetically modified tumor cells expressing specific IFN molecules provided important information on the host-mediated antitumor mechanisms induced by the local production of IFN-alpha. Of note, several studies have then underscored new immunomodulatory effects of IFN-alpha, including activities on T cells and dendritic cells, which may lead to IFN-induced antitumor immunity. In addition, recent reports on new immune correlates in cancer patients responding to IFN-alpha represent additional evidence on the importance of the interactions of IFN-alpha with the immune system for the generation of a durable antitumor response. On the whole, this knowledge suggests the advantage of using these cytokines as adjuvants of cancer vaccines and for the in vitro generation of highly active dendritic cells to be utilized for therapeutic vaccination of cancer patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Cells / cytology
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Interferon-alpha / metabolism
  • Interferon-alpha / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / therapy


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Interferon-alpha