The unique role of STAT2 in constitutive and IFN-induced transcription and antiviral responses

Cytokine Growth Factor Rev. 2016 Jun:29:71-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cytogfr.2016.02.010. Epub 2016 Mar 18.


In the canonical pathway of IFN-I-mediated signaling, phosphorylation of STAT1 and STAT2 leads to heterodimerization and interaction with IRF9. This complex, also known as IFN-stimulated gene factor 3 (ISGF3), then translocates into the nucleus and binds the IFN-I-stimulated response element (ISRE) leading to the activation of transcription of over 300 interferon stimulated genes (ISGs). In addition, STAT1 homodimers [known as γ-activated factor (GAF)] are formed and translocate to the nucleus, where they target genes containing the γ-activated sequence (GAS). The primary function of ISGF3 is to mediate a rapid and robust IFN-I activated response by regulating transient transcription of antiviral ISGs. This requires the quick assembly of ISGF3 from its pre-existing components STAT1, STAT2 and IRF9 and transport to the nucleus to bind ISRE-containing ISGs. The exact events that take place in formation, nuclear translocation and DNA-binding of active ISGF3 are still not clear. Over the years many studies have provided evidence for the existence of a multitude of alternative STAT2-containing (ISRE or GAS-binding) complexes involved in IFN-I signaling, emphasizing the importance of STAT2 in the regulation of specific IFN-I-induced transcriptional programs, independent of its involvement in the classical ISGF3 complex. This review describes the unique role of STAT2 in differential complex formation of unphosphorylated and phosphorylated ISGF3 components that direct constitutive and IFN-I-stimulated transcriptional responses. In addition, we highlight the existence of a STAT1-independent IFN-I signaling pathway, where STAT2/IRF9 can potentially substitute for the role of ISGF3 and offer a back-up response against viral infection.

Keywords: Alternative interferon response pathway; Cytokines/interferon; Host-pathogen interactions; ISGF3; STAT2 transcription factor; STAT2/IRF9; Signal transduction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / immunology*
  • Interferon-Stimulated Gene Factor 3, gamma Subunit / immunology
  • Response Elements / immunology
  • STAT2 Transcription Factor / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / immunology*


  • IRF9 protein, human
  • Interferon Type I
  • Interferon-Stimulated Gene Factor 3, gamma Subunit
  • STAT2 Transcription Factor
  • STAT2 protein, human