The evolution of the type I interferons

J Interferon Cytokine Res. 1998 Oct;18(10):805-16. doi: 10.1089/jir.1998.18.805.


There are five recognized subtypes within the type I interferons (IFN), IFN-alpha, IFN-beta, IFN-delta, IFN-omega, and IFN-tau, although others may remain to be described, and the IFN-omega may have to be subdivided further because of their evident structural complexity. Together, they constitute an ancient family of intronless genes, possibly present in all vertebrates. THe IFNA/IFNB genes originated by duplication of a progenitor after the divergence of birds, most probably about 250 million years ago (MYA). The avian gene itself proceeded to duplicate to form a series of independent subtypes. The IFND, to date described only in the pig, arose from the IFNA lineage before the emergence of mammals about 180 MYA and might, therefore, be generally distributed in present day species. The IFNB, which occurs as a single gene in primates and rodents, have been duplicated in some other orders. Recent events have produced 10 or more genes in bovid species. The IFNA, which are clustered with the IFNW in humans and cattle, exist as multiple genes in all mammals so far examined as a result of a series of duplication events, some of which occurred recently and, therefore, independently in separate mammalian lineages. The IFNW diverged from the IFNA approximately 130 MYA, just prior to the emergence of mammals, and have continued to duplicate since then. The IFNT, which play a role in reproduction of ruminants, arose from an IFNW within the Artiodactyla suborder about 36 MYA and are found only in the suborder Ruminantia. These genes have also continued to duplicate to form an extensive family. Consequently, their involvement in early pregnancy is a feature of ruminants and not of other mammalian species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Duplication
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family*
  • Pregnancy Proteins / genetics


  • Interferon Type I
  • Pregnancy Proteins
  • trophoblastin