Differential interferon-α subtype induced immune signatures are associated with suppression of SARS-CoV-2 infection

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Feb 22;119(8):e2111600119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2111600119.


Type I interferons (IFN-I) exert pleiotropic biological effects during viral infections, balancing virus control versus immune-mediated pathologies, and have been successfully employed for the treatment of viral diseases. Humans express 12 IFN-alpha (α) subtypes, which activate downstream signaling cascades and result in distinct patterns of immune responses and differential antiviral responses. Inborn errors in IFN-I immunity and the presence of anti-IFN autoantibodies account for very severe courses of COVID-19; therefore, early administration of IFN-I may be protective against life-threatening disease. Here we comprehensively analyzed the antiviral activity of all IFNα subtypes against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) to identify the underlying immune signatures and explore their therapeutic potential. Prophylaxis of primary human airway epithelial cells (hAEC) with different IFNα subtypes during SARS-CoV-2 infection uncovered distinct functional classes with high, intermediate, and low antiviral IFNs. In particular, IFNα5 showed superior antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro and in SARS-CoV-2-infected mice in vivo. Dose dependency studies further displayed additive effects upon coadministration with the broad antiviral drug remdesivir in cell culture. Transcriptomic analysis of IFN-treated hAEC revealed different transcriptional signatures, uncovering distinct, intersecting, and prototypical genes of individual IFNα subtypes. Global proteomic analyses systematically assessed the abundance of specific antiviral key effector molecules which are involved in IFN-I signaling pathways, negative regulation of viral processes, and immune effector processes for the potent antiviral IFNα5. Taken together, our data provide a systemic, multimodular definition of antiviral host responses mediated by defined IFN-I. This knowledge will support the development of novel therapeutic approaches against SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; antiviral; immunotherapy; type I IFNs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19 / immunology
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Vectors / chemistry
  • Genetic Vectors / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / genetics
  • Interferon-alpha / immunology
  • Interferon-alpha / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Protein Isoforms / classification
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / immunology
  • Protein Isoforms / pharmacology
  • Recombinant Proteins / classification
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcriptome*
  • Vero Cells
  • Virus Replication / drug effects*


  • IFNA5 protein, human
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Recombinant Proteins