Interferons Definition

Cytokines (molecules on the surface of cell membranes that direct cell activity) that block the activity of viruses and mediate numerous aspects of the immune response. There are more than a dozen type 1 interferons, the most abundant of which are interferon-alpha and interferon-beta.

B-cell lymphocytes and T-cell lymphocytes produce type 1 interferons, which primarily direct the functions of macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells in responding to viruses. Activated T-cells produce interferon-gamma, which is the only type 2 interferon. Interferon-gamma helps regulate inflammation.

Interferon-alpha/beta and Cancer Treatment

Interferon-alpha and interferon-beta have strong tumor-suppression actions, which has led to their therapeutic use for certain kinds of cancer. Oncologists (doctors who specialize in treating cancer) administer recombinant forms of interferons (synthesized in a laboratory using recombinant DNA technology) by injection to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, hairy cell leukemia, malignant melanoma, and some types of lymphoma.

Doctors also use therapeutic interferons to treat hepatitis c and multiple sclerosis. Pegylated interferons are synthesized to include polyethylene glycol, which delays the rate at which the body absorbs injected interferons.


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