What are interferons and how do they work?
Interferons are a family of naturally-occurring proteins that are made and secreted by cells of the immune system (for example, white blood cells, natural killer cells, fibroblasts, and epithelial cells). Three classes of interferons have been identified:
Each class has many effects, though their effects overlap. Commercially available interferons are human interferons manufactured using recombinant DNA technology. The mechanism of action of interferon is complex and is not well understood. Interferons modulate the response of the immune system to viruses, bacteria, cancer, and other foreign substances that invade the body. Interferons do not directly kill viral or cancerous cells; they boost the immune system response and reduce the growth of cancer cells by regulating the action of several genes that control the secretion of numerous cellular proteins that affect growth.
For what conditions are interferons used?
Since interferons enhance the immune system in many ways, they are used for many diseases that involve the immune system. For example:
Are there any differences among the different types of interferons?
Although interferons are very similar they affect the body differently. Therefore, different interferons are used for different conditions. Interferon alphas are used for treating cancers and viral infections; interferon betas are used for treating multiple sclerosis; and interferon gamma is used for treating chronic granulomatous disease.
What are the side effects of interferons?
Flu-like symptoms following each injection (fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and pains, malaise) occur with all of the interferons. These symptoms vary from mild to severe and occur in up to half of all patients. The symptoms tend to diminish with repeated injections and may be managed with analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
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