Interferons (IFNs) are proteins which can activate other cells as part of immune system to destroy invading pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and tumor cells.

Interferons (IFNs) are proteins that are produced by host cells that have been infected with pathogens such as tumor cells, viruses, bacteria and parasites. They can activate other cells that help serve as part of the immune system in order to destroy any invading pathogens. IFNs are a large class of glycoproteins that can be classified as: alpha, beta and gamma. Interferons that are intended for therapeutic purposes can be manufactured using recombinant DNA technology and then used in the treatment of many different conditions that affect the immune system.

  • Interferon Alpha (IFN-α):  Commonly used in treating viral infections (chronic hepatitis and human papillomavirus) and also in treating cancer (malignant melanoma, hairy cell leukemia, AIDS related – Kaposi sarcoma).
  • Interferon Beta (IFN-β):  Useful in slowing down or treating the progression of multiple sclerosis.
  • Interferon Gamma (IFN-γ):  Often used to treat chronic granulomatous disease.

There are presently 10 distinct IFNs that have been identified in mammals, of which 7 are present in humans. Typically they are divided into three distinct classes of IFNs which are based on the type of receptor through which they signal.

  • Interferon Type I: All type I IFNs are known to bind to a specific cell surface receptor complex, referred to as IFN-α receptor (IFNAR). It consists of IFNAR1 and IFNAR2 chains. In humans there are IFN-α, IFN-β and IFN-ω.
  • Interferon Type II: These bind to IFNGR and are made up of IFNGR1 and IFNGR2 chains. In humans this is IFN-γ.
  • Interferon Type III: These signal through a receptor complex consisting of IL10R2 (CRF2-4) and IFNLR1 (CRF2-12). At present this classification is less universal in comparison to type I and type II. Unlike the other two, currently this is not even included in medical subject headings.




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