The Role of Interferons in Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis

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Interferons, despite their common name, comprise a group of cytokines with quite different molecular structures, cellular receptors, biological effects, functions and applications. We here review studies directed at defining the role played by these molecules when they are produced endogenously or administered exogenously in the course of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a model disease considered relevant for the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Studies on the role of Type II interferon, i.e. interferon-γ (IFN-γ), are almost unanimously indicative of a beneficial role, though this is in contrast to clinical observations pertaining to the role of IFN-γ in MS. Possible explanations for this discrepancy are considered in this review.

Interferon-β (IFN-β), one of the Type I interferons, also exerts a beneficial effect in EAE. In this case there is good correspondence with clinical observations, and studies in the animal model have contributed to providing possible explanations for these beneficial effects.

Our review also covers a limited number of studies on the apparently beneficial effect of treatment with another Type I interferon, namely IFN-τ, originally discovered as a pregnancy recognition hormone in sheep.