Interferons and viruses: an evolutionary arms race of molecular interactions

Trends Immunol. 2015 Mar;36(3):124-38. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Over half a century has passed since interferons (IFNs) were discovered and shown to inhibit virus infection in cultured cells. Since then, researchers have steadily brought to light the molecular details of IFN signaling, catalogued their pleiotropic effects on cells, and harnessed their therapeutic potential for a variety of maladies. While advances have been plentiful, several fundamental questions have yet to be answered and much complexity remains to be unraveled. We explore the current knowledge surrounding four main questions: are type I IFN subtypes differentially produced in response to distinct pathogens? How are IFN subtypes distinguished by cells? What are the mechanisms and consequences of viral antagonism? Lastly, how can the IFN response be harnessed to improve vaccine efficacy?

Keywords: innate immunity; interferon subtype; interferons; vaccine adjuvants.; viral antagonism; viruses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Lineage / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Interferon Type I / classification
  • Interferon Type I / genetics
  • Interferon Type I / immunology*
  • Interleukins / classification
  • Interleukins / genetics
  • Interleukins / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / virology
  • Phylogeny
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition / genetics
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition / immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Viruses / immunology*
  • Viruses / pathogenicity


  • Interferon Type I
  • Interleukins
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition