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Mol Cell Biol. 2006 Mar;26(5):1888-97.

Inquiring into the differential action of interferons (IFNs): an IFN-alpha2 mutant with enhanced affinity to IFNAR1 is functionally similar to IFN-beta.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry, Weizmann Institute of Science, 76100 Rehovot, Israel.


Alpha and beta interferons (IFN-alpha and IFN-beta) are multifunctional cytokines that exhibit differential activities through a common receptor composed of the subunits IFNAR1 and IFNAR2. Here we combined biophysical and functional studies to explore the mechanism that allows the alpha and beta IFNs to act differentially. For this purpose, we have engineered an IFN-alpha2 triple mutant termed the HEQ mutant that mimics the biological properties of IFN-beta. Compared to wild-type (wt) IFN-alpha2, the HEQ mutant confers a 30-fold higher binding affinity towards IFNAR1, comparable to that measured for IFN-beta, resulting in a much higher stability of the ternary complex as measured on model membranes. The HEQ mutant, like IFN-beta, promotes a differentially higher antiproliferative effect than antiviral activity. Both bring on a down-regulation of the IFNAR2 receptor upon induction, confirming an increased ternary complex stability of the plasma membrane. Oligonucleotide microarray experiments showed similar gene transcription profiles induced by the HEQ mutant and IFN-beta and higher levels of gene induction or repression than those for wt IFN-alpha2. Thus, we show that the differential activities of IFN-beta are directly related to the binding affinity for IFNAR1. Conservation of the residues mutated in the HEQ mutant within IFN-alpha subtypes suggests that IFN-alpha has evolved to bind IFNAR1 weakly, apparently to sustain differential levels of biological activities compared to those induced by IFN-beta.

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