Type I interferons (IFN-I) have long been heralded as key contributors to effective antiviral responses. More widely understood in the context of acute viral infection, the role of this pleiotropic cytokine has been characterized as triggering antiviral states in cells and potentiating adaptive immune responses. Upon induction in the innate immune response, IFN-I triggers the expression of interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), which upregulate the effector function of immune cells (e.g., dendritic cells, B cells, and T cells) toward successful resolution of infections. However, emerging lines of evidence reveal that viral persistence in the course of chronic infections could be driven by deleterious immunomodulatory effects upon sustained IFN-I expression. In this setting, elevation of IFN-I and ISGs is directly correlated to viral persistence and elevated viral loads. It is important to note that the correlation among IFN-I expression, ISGs, and viral persistence may be a cause or effect of chronic infection and this is an important distinction to make toward establishing the dichotomous nature of IFN-I responses. The aim of this mini review is to (i) summarize the interaction between IFN-I and downstream effector responses and therefore (ii) delineate the function of this cytokine on positive and negative immunoregulation in chronic infection. This is a significant consideration given the current therapeutic administration of IFN-I in chronic viral infections whose therapeutic significance is projected to continue despite emergence of increasingly efficacious antiviral regimens. Furthermore, elucidation of the interplay between virus and the antiviral response in the context of IFN-I will elucidate avenues toward more effective therapeutic and prophylactic measures against chronic viral infections.
Keywords: IFNAR; chronic viral infection; immunopathology; immunoregulation; type-I interferon.