USP18-based negative feedback control is induced by type I and type III interferons and specifically inactivates interferon α response

PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22200. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022200. Epub 2011 Jul 14.


Type I interferons (IFN) are cytokines that are rapidly secreted upon microbial infections and regulate all aspects of the immune response. In humans 15 type I IFN subtypes exist, of which IFN α2 and IFN β are used in the clinic for treatment of different pathologies. IFN α2 and IFN β are non redundant in their expression and in their potency to exert specific bioactivities. The more recently identified type III IFNs (3 IFN λ or IL-28/IL-29) bind an unrelated cell-type restricted receptor. Downstream of these two receptor complexes is a shared Jak/Stat pathway. Several mechanisms that contribute to the shut down of the IFN-induced signaling have been described at the molecular level. In particular, it has long been known that type I IFN induces the establishment of a desensitized state. In this work we asked how the IFN-induced desensitization integrates into the network built by the multiple type I IFN subtypes and type III IFNs. We show that priming of cells with either type I IFN or type III IFN interferes with the cell's ability to further respond to all IFN α subtypes. Importantly, primed cells are differentially desensitized in that they retain sensitivity to IFN β. We show that USP18 is necessary and sufficient to induce differential desensitization, by impairing the formation of functional binding sites for IFN α2. Our data highlight a new type of differential between IFNs α and IFN β and underline a cross-talk between type I and type III IFN. This cross-talk could shed light on the reported genetic variation in the IFN λ loci, which has been associated with persistence of hepatitis C virus and patient's response to IFN α2 therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endopeptidases / genetics
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / metabolism
  • Interferon Type I / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-alpha / metabolism
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology*
  • Interferon-beta / metabolism
  • Interferon-beta / pharmacology
  • Interferons / metabolism*
  • Interferons / pharmacology*
  • Interleukins / metabolism
  • Interleukins / pharmacology
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Protein Binding
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase


  • IFNL1 protein, human
  • Interferon Type I
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Interleukins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Interferon-beta
  • Interferons
  • Endopeptidases
  • USP18 protein, human
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase