Type I interferon (IFN-α/β) is comprised of a family of highly related molecules that exert potent antiviral activity by interfering with virus replication and spread. IFN-α/β secretion is tightly regulated through pathogen sensing pathways that are operative in most somatic cells. However, specialized antigen-presenting plasmacytoid dendritic cells are uniquely equipped with the capacity to secrete extremely high levels of IFN-α/β, suggesting a key role for this cytokine in priming adaptive T-cell responses. Recent studies in both mice and humans have demonstrated a role for IFN-α/β in directly influencing the fate of both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells during the initial phases of antigen recognition. As such, IFN-α/β, among other innate cytokines, is considered an important 'third signal' that shapes the effector and memory T-cell pool. Moreover, IFN-α/β also serves as a counter-regulator of T helper type 2 and type 17 responses, which may be important in the treatment of atopy and autoimmunity, and in the development of novel vaccine adjuvants.
© 2011 The Authors. Immunology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.