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:
- beta, and
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.
What are the available interferons?
- interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A)
- interferon alfa-2b (Intron-A )
- interferon alfa-n3 (Alferon-N)
- peginterferon alfa-2b (PegIntron , Sylatron)
- interferon beta-1a (Avonex )
- interferon beta-1a (Rebif)
- interferon beta-1b (Betaseron)
- interferon beta-1b (Extavia)
- interferon gamma-1b (Actimmune )
- peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys ProClick)
- peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin (Peginterferon)
- peginterferon alfa-2b and ribavirin (PegIntron/Rebetol Combo Pack)
- peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy)
- interferon alfacon-1 (Infergen has been discontinued in the US)
Quick GuideMultiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms and Treatment
What are the side effects of interferons?
Common side effects of interferons (that may occur with all interferons) include flu-like symptoms following each injection such as:
These side effects 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 others) and antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Tissue damage at the site of injection occurs with all of the interferons but more commonly with interferon beta-1b and pegylated interferon alfa-2b.
Other important side effects that may occur with all interferons, and that may be caused by higher doses are:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint aches
- Back pain
- Increased heart rate
- Low white blood cell count
- Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
- Low red blood cell count
- An increase in liver enzymes
- An increase in triglycerides
- Skin rashes
- Mild hair loss or hair thinning
- Swelling (edema)
- Difficulty breathing
- Allergic or anaphylactic reaction
Some interferons are associated with liver failure and periodic liver function tests are recommended during therapy.
Depression and suicide have been reported among patients receiving interferons; however, it is unclear whether depression and suicidal thoughts are caused by the diseases being treated or the interferons themselves. Therefore, all patients receiving treatment with an interferon should be observed for the development of depression and suicidal thoughts.
For what conditions are interferons used?
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:
- interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A) is FDA-approved to treat hairy cell leukemia, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, and chronic myelogenous leukemia.
- interferon alfa-2b is approved for the treatment of hairy cell leukemia, malignant melanoma, condylomata acuminata, AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma, chronic hepatitis C, and chronic hepatitis B.
- Ribavirin combined with interferon alfa-2b, interferon alfacon-1 (Infergen), pegylated interferon alfa-2b, or pegylated interferon alpha-2a, all are approved for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.
- interferon beta-1b (Betaseron) and interferon beta-1a (Avonex) are approved for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
- interferon alfa-n3 (Alferon-N) is approved for the treatment of genital and perianal warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).
- interferon gamma-1B (Actimmune) is approved for the treatment of chronic granulomatous disease, and severe, malignant osteopetrosis.
- peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy) is used for treating multiple sclerosis (MS)
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.
With which drugs do interferons interact?
Interferon alfa-2a, interferon alfa-2b,peginterferon beta-1a, and interferon beta-1b may increase blood levels of zidovudine (AZT, Retrovir). While this reaction may improve zidovudine's effectiveness, it also may increase the risk of blood and liver toxicity. Therefore, the dose of zidovudine may need to be reduced by as much as 75%.
Interferons are a family of natural occurring proteins. Interferons are used to treat many diseases that involve the immune system for example, cancers, hepatitis, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, genital and perianal warts, and granulomatous disease. Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions and patient safety information should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Multimedia: Slideshows, Images & Quizzes
Hepatitis C Quiz: What is Hepatitis C?
How many Americans have hepatitis C? Take this quiz to learn the facts about this chronic disease....
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
Multiple Sclerosis is a debilitating neurological condition. Take the MS Quiz to test your knowledge of the causes, symptoms,...
Leukemia Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
What do you know about leukemia? Did you know there are different types? What are the symptoms? Take the Leukemia Quiz and test...
Liver Disease Quiz: Fatty Liver Disease, Cirrhosis & Symptoms
What is liver disease? Take the Liver Disease Quiz and test your knowledge about this organ and its function....
Picture of Graves Disease
Generalized diffuse overactivity ("toxicity") of the entire thyroid gland which becomes enlarged into a goiter. See a picture of...
Picture of Hepatitis B
Inflammation of the liver due to the hepatitis B virus (HBV), once thought to be passed only through blood products. See a...
Picture of Malignant Melanoma
Less than 2 percent of all melanomas occur during childhood. Nonetheless, attention must be paid to signs and symptoms suggestive...
Picture of Fixed Drug Eruption
A large red-violet plaque on the arm of a child. See a picture of Fixed Drug Eruption and learn more about the health topic....
Hepatitis C, Hep B, Hep A: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
What is hepatitis? Hepatitis A, B, and C spread in different ways, causing mild to serious effects on the liver. Learn about...
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms and Treatment
Learn about multiple sclerosis (MS) causes, symptoms, and treatment for this autoimmune disease that attacks the nerves of the...
Hepatitis in Pictures: What Puts You at Risk?
See how Hepatitis types A, B and C are trasmitted through issues such as poor hygiene, contamination, sexual contact and more....
Hepatitis C (Hep C) Symptoms and Treatment
What is Hepatitis C (Hep C, HVC)? Learn about hepatitis c symptoms, how you get hepatitis c, contagiousness, and hepatitis C...
Related Disease Conditions
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Symptoms and signs...
Genital Warts in Women (HPV)
Genital warts is an infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is the most common sexually transmitted infection...
Hepatitis (Viral Hepatitis, A, B, C, D, E, G)
Hepatitis is most often viral, due to infection with one of the hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D, E, F (not confirmed), and G) or...
There are several types of kidney cancer, including renal cell cancer (renal adenocarcinoma or hypernephroma), transitional cell...
Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood cells in which the growth and development of the blood cells are abnormal. Strictly...
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which begins in skin cells called melanocytes and affects more than 53,600 people in the United...
Multiple Sclerosis (MS Symptoms, Causes, and Life Expectancy)
Multiple sclerosis or MS is an autoimmune disorder in which brain and spinal cord nerve cells become demyelinated. This damage...
Hepatitis C (HCV, Hep C)
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver due to the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is usually spread by blood transfusion,...
Essential Mixed Cryoglobulinemia
Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia is a condition caused by abnormal blood proteins called cryoglobulins. Symptoms include joint...
Pulmonary fibrosis is scarring throughout the lungs. Pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by many conditions including chronic...
Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a group of signs and symptoms that show up two to four decades after the initial polio infection....
A keloid is a scar that doesn't know when to stop. When the cells keep on reproducing, the result is an overgrown (hypertrophic)...
Hepatitis B (HBV, Hep B)
The hepatitis B virus (HBV, hep B) is a unique, coated DNA virus belonging to the Hepadnaviridae family of viruses. The course of...
Peyronie's Disease (Curvature of the Penis)
Peyronie's disease or curvature of the penis (Peyronie disease) is a condition in which scar tissue develops inside the penis....
Carcinoid Syndrome (Carcinoid Tumor)
A carcinoid tumor is a tumor that develops from enterochromaffin cells. The important characteristic of carcinoid tumors that...
Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve, the structure that connects the eye to the brain. The precise cause of optic...
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
AIDS is the advanced stage of HIV infection. Symptoms and signs of AIDS include pneumonia due to Pneumocystis jiroveci,...
Graves' Disease (Symptoms, Causes, Diet, Treatment Options)
Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. Some of the symptoms of Graves' disease include hand tremors,...
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms (Early, Body Areas Affected)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms vary from person to person, and can last for days to months without periods of remission....
Is Hepatitis C Contagious?
Hepatitis C or hep C causes acute and chronic liver disease. Hep C is a form of liver disease with symptoms like: fatigue,...
Castleman Disease is a group of related conditions. It is a rare disease with an unknown prevalence. Signs and symptoms of...
Hepatitis C Cure (Symptoms, Transmission, Treatments, and Cost)
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. There are a variety of toxins, diseases, illicit drugs, medications, bacterial and viral...
Is MS Contagious? (Multiple Sclerosis)
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a degenerative disease of the covering around the nerves in the central nervous system (CNS)....
Treatment & Diagnosis
- Liver Disease FAQs
- Multiple Sclerosis MS FAQs
- Leukemia FAQs
- Hepatitis C FAQs
- How To Reduce Your Medication Costs
- Medication Disposal - What to Do with Old or Unusable Medication
- Dangers of Mixing Medications
- Pharmacy Visit, How To Get The Most Out of Your Visit
- Indications for Drugs: Approved vs. Non-approved
- Generic Drugs, Are They as Good as Brand-Names?
- Drugs: Buying Prescription Drugs Online Safely
- Drugs: The Most Common Medication Errors
Medications & Supplements
Prevention & Wellness
- New MS Drug Approved by FDA
- New Hepatitis C Drugs Might Eliminate the Disease
- New MS Drug Shows 'Breakthrough' Promise for Advanced Disease
- Women at Greater Risk Than Men for Zika Infection: Study
- Powerful MS Drug Used Early May Reverse Some Disability
- Serious Infections Tied to Suicide Risk
- Study Suggests Causes for Lupus' Impact on Immune System
- New TB Test May Help Simplify Diagnosis
- Are We Winning the Fight Against Melanoma?
- Cancer Treatment Should Proceed for Pregnant Women: Study
- Technivie Approved for Hepatitis C
- Experimental Drug Combo Shows Promise Against Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis C Drugs Will 'Strain Budgets' at Current Prices: Study
- Drug Regimen Cures Hepatitis C in Most Liver Transplant Patients in Study
- Pricey Hepatitis Drug a Good Bet in U.S. Prisons, Study Says
- Hepatitis C Combo Pill May Cure Those Who Can Afford It
- Researchers Unlock Clues to How Ebola Disarms Immune System
- Hepatitis C Could Become Rare Disease in 20 Years: Study
- Scientists Spot Gene Behind Rare but Fatal Disease in Children
- FAQ: The High Cost of Hepatitis C Drugs
- Cure Rate for Experimental Hepatitis C Drug Tops 95 Percent
- Rare, But Serious, Side Effect Reported With One MS Drug
- Vitamin D May Slow Multiple Sclerosis, Study Suggests
- Most With Hepatitis C May Soon Find Hope in New Treatments
- FDA Rejects MS Drug Lemtrada
- FDA Approves New Treatment for Hepatitis C Infection
- Study Finds Too Few With Hepatitis C Start or Stick With Treatment
- New Drug Combo Helps Hard-to-Treat Hepatitis C
- More Drugs Show Promise in Fighting Hepatitis C
- Will New Gout Findings Get a Toehold?
- Experimental Drug Shows Benefits Against Melanoma in Early Study
- Experimental Drug for Hepatitis C Promising, Studies Show
- Treatment for New, Deadly Coronavirus Shows Promise
- New Pills Show Promise for Hepatitis C
- Patient Survival Rises When Drugs Suppress Hepatitis C in Blood: Study
- FDA Warns of Fatal Rash From Hep C Drug Incivek
- Leukemia Drug Is Highly Effective MS Treatment
- Antiviral Therapy for Hepatitis C May Thwart Liver Cancer
- Screening Tool Reveals Two Multiple Sclerosis Types
- New Immune-Deficiency Illness Emerging in East Asia
- Vitamin B12 May Boost Hep C Treatment
- Multiple Sclerosis Drugs May Not Delay Disability
- Milk Thistle Doesn't Help Hepatitis C
- Early Use of MS Drug May Cut Likelihood of Progression
- Fish Oil Supplements Won't Help in Multiple Sclerosis: Study
- Study Reveals Trigger That May Speed Melanoma Growth
- Hepatitis C Now Kills More Americans Than HIV
- New Drug Combo for Hepatitis C Shows Promise
- Research Sheds Light on Vitamin D's Role in Immunity
- FDA Panel Backs 2 Hepatitis C Drugs
- FDA Panel Urges Approval of Hepatitis C Drug
- Gleevec Gets High Marks for Leukemia Treatment
- Scientists Make Discoveries in the Biology of Lupus
- Experimental Drug May Treat Hepatitis C
- New Drug Cures Hard-to-Treat Hepatitis C
- 2 Types of MS, Study Reveals
Daily Health News
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
Top interferon Related Articles
Essential Mixed CryoglobulinemiaEssential mixed cryoglobulinemia is a condition caused by abnormal blood proteins called cryoglobulins. Symptoms include
- joint pain,
- skin vasculitis,
- enlarged spleen, and
- nerve and kidney disease.
Genital Warts In Women
Genital warts is an infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STD) in the U.S. Genital warts are spread by sexual contact. Signs and symptoms of genital warts include genital itching, burning, tenderness, and pain. Genital warts can be removed, but there is no cure for HPV infection. There is a vaccine to prevent infection from four common HPV types.
Graves Disease PictureGeneralized diffuse overactivity ("toxicity") of the entire thyroid gland which becomes enlarged into a goiter. See a picture of Graves Disease and learn more about the health topic.
Hepatitis CHepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver due to the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is usually spread by blood transfusion, hemodialysis, and needle sticks, especially with intravenous drug abuse. Symptoms of chronic hepatitis include fatigue, fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and fever. Chronic hepatitis C may be cured in most individuals with drugs that target specific genomes of hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C SlideshowWhat is Hepatitis C (Hep C, HVC)? Learn about hepatitis c symptoms, how you get hepatitis c, contagiousness, and hepatitis C treatment for this potentially fatal viral infection that affects the liver.
Hepatitis SlideshowWhat is hepatitis? Hepatitis A, B, and C spread in different ways, causing mild to serious effects on the liver. Learn about hepatitis symptoms and available vaccines to prevent hepatitis infection.
Hepatitis Risk SlideshowSee how Hepatitis types A, B and C are trasmitted through issues such as poor hygiene, contamination, sexual contact and more.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Symptoms and signs of HIV infection include fatigue, enlarged lymph glands, and recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the standard treatment for HIV infection.
Kidney CancerThere are several types of kidney cancer, including renal cell cancer (renal adenocarcinoma or hypernephroma), transitional cell carcinoma, and Wilms tumor. Symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in the urine, an abdominal lump or mass, chronic pain in the side, and tiredness. Treatment of kidney cancer -- which may include surgery, arterial embolization, radiation therapy, biological therapy or chemotherapy -- depends upon the stage of the disease and the patient's overall health.
LeukemiaLeukemia is a type of cancer of the blood cells in which the growth and development of the blood cells are abnormal. Strictly speaking, leukemia should refer only to cancer of the white blood cells (the leukocytes) but in practice it can apply to malignancy of any cellular element in the blood or bone marrow, as in red cell leukemia (erythroleukemia).
Leukemia QuizWhat do you know about leukemia? Did you know there are different types? What are the symptoms? Take the Leukemia Quiz and test your knowledge and get the facts.
Liver Blood TestsAn initial step in detecting liver damage is a simple blood test to determine the presence of certain liver enzymes in the blood. Under normal circumstances, these enzymes reside within the cells of the liver. But when the liver is injured, these enzymes are spilled into the blood stream, and can lead to diseases like fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hepatitis. Several medications also can increase liver enzyme test results.
Liver Disease QuizWhat is liver disease? Take the Liver Disease Quiz and test your knowledge about this organ and its function.
MelanomaMelanoma is a type of skin cancer which begins in skin cells called melanocytes and affects more than 53,600 people in the United States each year. These melanocytes can grow together to form benign moles which, after a change in size, shape, or color can be a sign of melanoma. Caused by sun exposure, early detection becomes extremely important to avoid a spread to other areas of the body. Diagnosis is confirmed through a biopsy of the abnormal skin and treatment depends on the extent and characteristics of the patient. Metastatic melanoma is melanoma that has spread to various organs.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)Multiple sclerosis or MS is an autoimmune disorder in which brain and spinal cord nerve cells become demyelinated. This damage results in symptoms that may include numbness, weakness, vertigo, paralysis, and involuntary muscle contractions. Different forms of MS can follow variable courses from relatively benign to life-threatening. MS is treated with disease-modifying therapies. Some MS symptoms can be treated with medications.
Take the MS QuizMultiple Sclerosis is a debilitating neurological condition. Take the MS Quiz to test your knowledge of the causes, symptoms, risks and treatments.
MS SlideshowLearn about multiple sclerosis (MS) causes, symptoms, and treatment for this autoimmune disease that attacks the nerves of the central nervous system and damages myelin affecting the brain and spinal cord.
Viral HepatitisHepatitis is most often viral, due to infection with one of the hepatitis viruses (A, B, C, D, E, F (not confirmed), and G) or another virus (such as those that cause infectious mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus disease). The main nonviral causes of hepatitis are alcohol and drugs. Many patients infected with hepatitis A, B, and C have few or no symptoms of illness. For those who do develop symptoms of viral hepatitis, the most common are flu- like symptoms including: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever, weakness, tiredness, and aching in the abdomen. Treatment of viral hepatitis is dependant on the type of hepatitis.