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This article is part of the supplement: The role of IFN alpha in autoimmune disease

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Overview of the biology of type I interferons

George D Kalliolias1 and Lionel B Ivashkiv12*

Author affiliations

1 Arthritis and Tissue Degeneration Program and Department of Medicine, Hospital for Special Surgery, 535 East 70th Street, Research Building 4th floor, New York, NY 10021, USA

2 Graduate Program in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis, Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York, NY 10021, USA

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12(Suppl 1):S1  doi:10.1186/ar2881

Published: 14 April 2010


Type I interferons are pleiotropic cytokines with antiviral, antitumor and immunoregulatory functions. An aspect of their complex biology is the paradox that, depending on context, type I interferons can be anti-inflammatory and tissue protective or can be proinflammatory and promote autoimmunity. Along these lines, the activation of type I interferon pathways is effective in suppressing disease activity in patients with multiple sclerosis and in animal models of arthritis and colitis, while there is an expectation that blockade of the same pathways will be beneficial in the treatment of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.