Interferon beta correlates with ongoing viral infections

Interferon beta correlates with ongoing viral infections
Interferon beta correlates with ongoing viral infections | Courtesy of
A team of researchers from the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recently discovered a correlation between interferon beta proteins, which are typically considered part of the immune system, and persistent viral infections.

The study results show that drugs that block interferon beta may help treat ongoing viral infections, such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and others.

Scientists previously believed that interferon beta proteins assisted the human immune system in defending the body against a viral invasion. These proteins activate T cells, improve the immune system’s detection of viral proteins, and interrupt viral replication. These proteins have been considered so important that lab-grown proteins have been used as therapies for hepatitis C infections and various cancers.

“We found that IFN is important for the immunosuppressive effect seen in persistent infection, even though it signals through the same receptor used by IFN proteins, which have very different effects,” said Michael B. A. Oldstone, professor at TSRI and senior investigator of the study, which appears in the May 13, 2015 issue of Cell Host & Microbe.

“LCMV Cl-13 and likely other viruses that persist—and possibly cancers—have learned to co-opt that immunosuppressive function to abort T cell functions required to eliminate them,” Oldstone said.

“Researchers have long hypothesized that interferons evolved many different subtypes not just for the sake of redundancy, but because those subtypes have different biologic roles,” said Oldstone. "In the case of IFN, that role may be to curb the immune response, thereby preventing excessive damage and autoimmunity due to that immune response."