There now appears to be evidence to support the view that the type I IFNs are naturally produced negative regulators of growth that also modify cell differentiation. Consistent with this, it appears that the ability to produce and respond to IFN is suppressed in early embryonic development when cell proliferation and differentiation are essential. In the later stages of fetal development, IFN production is de-repressed, and cells show increased sensitivity to IFN, which may be important in regulating cell proliferation and/or differentiation processes or the interaction between fetal and maternal tissues. Interestingly, the IFN system can also be suppressed in disease states such as the development of tumours or in the establishment of a (chronic) viral infection. Therefore, understanding the developmental regulation of the IFN system may be important to understanding and controlling the IFN system in disease. More extensive studies of the developmental stage and tissue-specific expression of type I IFNs and their receptors are necessary, as well as more direct in vivo experiments to further elucidate the role of the IFN system in reproduction and development.