Type I IFNs and their role in the development of autoimmune diseases

Laura M. Burdick, Najwa Somani, Ally Khan Somani

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

27 Scopus citations


Background: Since their initial use in the 1980s, IFNs have become an essential component of the therapy for many diseases such as hepatitis and multiple sclerosis. Although they have been extremely useful in conditions that pose therapeutic challenges, complications associated with their use have been widely reported including emerging reports of several autoimmune diseases. Many of these reports have shed light on the pathogenesis of autoimmune disorders and helped to highlight not only the critical role of type I IFNs in defense against viral infections but also the pivotal role they occupy in the interface between innate and adaptive immunity. Many patients with autoimmune disease have increased responsiveness to type I IFNs (α/β), and therapy with these cytokines has induced or unmasked autoimmune disease in many additional patients. Objective: The objective of this paper is to discuss the role of type I IFNs in autoimmunity. Methods: The literature regarding type I IFNs and autoimmunity was reviewed using the Medline database from 1950 to 2009. Search terms included 'interferon alpha' and 'autoimmune disease' and 'interferon beta' and 'autoimmune disease'. Case reports, case series, reviews and prospective studies were included in the analysis. Results/conclusions: In the literature a variety of autoimmune disorders have reportedly been induced by the use of type I IFNs, being used, although these are primarily in the form of case reports and case series. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of molecular evidence to support the clinical association. The role of IFNs in the induction of autoimmunity is complex with interplay of many genetic and environmental factors that influence the balance between normal and aberrant immune responsiveness, ultimately leading to the observed clinical manifestations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-472
Number of pages14
JournalExpert Opinion on Drug Safety
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Adverse effects
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Autoimmunity
  • IFN alpha
  • IFN beta
  • Type I IFN

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)

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