COVID-19: lambda interferon against viral load and hyperinflammation

EMBO Mol Med. 2020 Jun 8;12(6):e12465. doi: 10.15252/emmm.202012465. Epub 2020 May 25.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), triggered by the betacoronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has become one of the worst pandemics of our time that has already caused more than 250,000 deaths (JHU data-05/06/2020, Effective therapeutic approaches are urgently needed to reduce the spread of the virus and its death toll. Here, we assess the possibility of using interferon-lambda (IFNλ), a third type of interferon sharing low homology with type I IFNs and IL-10, for treating COVID-19 patients. We discuss the unique role of IFNλ in fine-tuning antiviral immunity in the respiratory tract to achieve optimal protection and minimal host damage and review early evidence that SARS-CoV-2 may impair IFNλ induction, leading to a delayed type I IFN-dominated response that triggers hyperinflammation and severe disease. We also consider the potential windows of opportunity for therapeutic intervention with IFNλ and potential safety considerations. We conclude that IFNλ constitutes a promising therapeutic agent for reducing viral presence and hyperinflammation in a single shot to prevent the devastating consequences of COVID-19 such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Keywords: COVID-19; cytokine storm; hyperinflammation; interferon; viral infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • Betacoronavirus / physiology
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Interferons / therapeutic use*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Viral Load


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Interferons