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Virology. 1999 Apr 25;257(1):106-18.

Role of interferon and interferon regulatory factors in early protection against Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus infection.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, 20814, USA.


To investigate the role of type I interferon (IFN) and its regulatory transacting proteins, interferon regulatory factors (IRF-1 and IRF-2), in early protection against infection with virulent Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE), we utilized mice with targeted mutations in the IFN-alpha/beta receptor, IRF-1, or IRF-2 genes. IFN-alpha/beta-receptor knockout mice are highly susceptible to peripheral infection with virulent or attenuated VEE, resulting in their death within 24 and 48 h, respectively. Treatment of normal macrophages with anti-IFN-alpha/beta antibody prior to and during infection with molecularly cloned virulent VEE resulted in increased VEE replication. However, treatment with high doses of IFN or IFN-inducing agents failed to alter percentage mortality or average survival times in mice challenged with a low dose of virulent VEE. In IRF-1 and IRF-2 knockout mice (IRF-1(-/-) and IRF-2(-/-)), the 100% protection against virulent VEE that is conferred by attenuated VEE within 24 h in control C57BL/6 mice was completely absent in IRF-2(-/-) mice, whereas 50% of IRF-1(-/-) mice were protected. IRF-2(-/-) mice were deficient in clearing VEE virus from the spleen and the brain compared to the heterozygous IRF-2(+/-) knockout or C57BL/6 (+/+) mice. Furthermore, a distinct pattern of histopathological changes was observed in brains of IRF-2(-/-) mice after VEE exposure. Taken together, these findings imply that the altered immune response in IRF-1 and IRF-2 knockout mice results in altered virus dissemination, altered virus clearance, and altered virus-induced pathology. Thus, type I interferon, as well as IRF-1 and IRF-2, appears to play an important and necessary role in the pathogenesis of, and protection against, VEE infection.

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