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Fish Shellfish Immunol. 2006 Feb;20(2):172-91.

The interferon system of teleost fish.

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  • 1Department of Marine Biotechnology, Norwegian College of Fishery Science, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromso, Norway.


Interferons (IFNs) are secreted proteins, which induce vertebrate cells into an antiviral state. In mammals, three families of IFNs (type I IFN, type II IFN and IFN-lambda) can be distinguished on the basis of gene structure, protein structure and functional properties. Type I IFNs, which include IFN-alpha and IFN-beta, are encoded by intron lacking genes and have a major role in the first line of defense against viruses. The human IFN-lambdas have similar biological properties as type I IFNs, but are encoded by intron containing genes. Type II IFN is identical to IFN-gamma, which is produced by T helper 1 cells in response to mitogens and antigens and has a key role in adaptive cell mediated immunity. IFNs, which show structural and functional properties similar to mammalian type I IFNs, have recently been cloned from Atlantic salmon, channel catfish, pufferfish, and zebrafish. Teleost fish appear to have at least two type I IFN genes. Phylogenetic sequence analysis shows that the fish type I IFNs form a group separated from the avian type I IFNs and the mammalian IFN-alpha, -beta and -lambda groups. Interestingly, the fish IFNs possess the same exon/intron structure as the IFN-lambdas, but show most sequence similarity to IFN-alpha. Recently, IFN-gamma genes have also been cloned from several fish species and shown to have the same exon/intron structure as mammalian IFN-gamma genes. The antiviral effect of mammalian type I IFN is exerted through binding to the IFN-alpha/beta-receptor, which triggers signal transduction through the JAK-STAT signal transduction pathway resulting in expression of Mx and other antiviral proteins. Putative IFN receptor genes have been identified in pufferfish. Several interferon regulatory factors and members of the JAK-STAT pathway have also been identified in various fish species. Moreover, Mx and several other interferon stimulated genes have been cloned and studied in fish. Furthermore, antiviral activity of Mx protein from Atlantic salmon and Japanese flounder has recently been demonstrated.

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