Hope and fear for interferon: the receptor-centric outlook on the future of interferon therapy

J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2013 Apr;33(4):211-25. doi: 10.1089/jir.2012.0117.


After several decades of intense clinical research, the great promise of Type I interferons (IFN1) as the anticancer wonder drugs that could cure or, at the very least, curb the progression of various oncological diseases has regrettably failed to deliver. Severe side effects and low efficacy of IFN1-based pharmaceutics greatly limited use of these drugs and further reduced the enthusiasm of clinical oncologists for future optimization of IFN1-based therapeutic modalities. Incredibly, extensive clinical studies to assess the efficacy of IFN1 alone or in combination with other anticancer drugs have not been paralleled by an equal scope in defining the determinants that confer cell sensitivity or refractoriness to IFN1. Given that all effects of IFN1 on malignant and benign cells alike are mediated by its receptor, the mechanisms regulating these receptor cell surface levels should play a paramount role in shaping the magnitude and duration of IFN1-elicited effects. These mechanisms and their role in controlling IFN1 responses, as well as an ability of a growing tumor to commandeer these events, are the focus of our review. We postulate that activation of numerous signaling pathways leading to elimination of IFN1 receptor occurs in cancer cells and benign cells that contribute to tumor tissue. We further hypothesize that activation of these eliminative pathways enables the escape from IFN1-driven suppression of tumorigenesis and elicits the primary refractoriness of tumor to the pharmaceutical IFN1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / adverse effects*
  • Interferon Type I / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta / metabolism
  • Receptors, Interferon / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • IFNAR1 protein, human
  • Interferon Type I
  • Receptors, Interferon
  • Receptor, Interferon alpha-beta