What is an interferon? Interferons are important messengers of the natural immune system and prevent the spread of viral infections. Genetically engineered interferons have been playing a crucial role in the treatment of hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis for several years. Interferons are endogenous proteins that belong to the group of cytokines. They play an important role in the body's natural immune defense and limit the spread of viral infections.
Effect of interferon
A cell infected by a virus releases interferon. The released interferon stimulates the natural immune response of the body and prevents further spread of the virus. Interferons can be subdivided into subtypes that differ in their chemical structure and are formed by different cell types.
The most prominent representatives are: alpha-interferon (α-IFN), beta-interferon (β-IFN) and gamma-interferon (γ-IFN).
With the help of genetic engineering interferons can now be artificially produced and used for the treatment of certain diseases. While alpha interferon is used in the treatment of hepatitis C and some malignancies, beta interferon is an important building block in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). Since interferons stimulate the body's immune response, interferon therapy is usually accompanied by severe side effects.
Alpha interferon and hepatitis C
Alpha interferon is widely used to treat acute and chronic hepatitis C. Infection with the hepatitis C virus leads to severe inflammation of the liver. In many cases (around 50-80%) acute hepatitis C infection is chronic and can lead to significant liver damage in the long term.
In the case of therapy with alpha interferon, the patient is given an injection subcutaneously at regular intervals, usually weekly. In addition, it is necessary to take ribavirin, which also has an antiviral effect. Interferon treatment for hepatitis C lasts between 24 and 48 weeks. In order to ensure optimal therapeutic success, patients should completely abstain from consuming alcohol during therapy.
Alpha interferon is also used to treat some cancers. The best results have so far been achieved in renal cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma (black skin cancer).
Beta interferon and multiple sclerosis (MS)
Beta interferon is commonly used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most common neurological diseases of young adulthood. In Germany, according to German Multiple Sclerosis Society (DMSG), currently about 130, 000 people are suffering from MS. Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS) in which an important protective layer of the nerve fibers, the so-called myelin sheath, gradually degenerates. The communication between nerve cells is thereby disturbed and it comes to various neurological deficits, which usually occur in batches.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary greatly depending on which area of the nervous system is affected. Occurrence can be, for example, visual disturbances, tingling sensations or dizziness.
MS: Gamma interferon crucial?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease: the immune system falsely fights the body's own cells. Gamma interferon is thought to play a crucial role in triggering MS relapses. Beta-interferon, on the other hand, is used to treat multiple sclerosis. It blocks the thrust-inducing effect of gamma-interferon and dampens the inflammatory reactions in the CNS.
The treatment of MS with beta-interferon is by regular injections (several times a week). In several studies, a reduction of the pacing frequency and the severity of the relapses by beta-interferon could be detected.
Side effects of interferon therapy
The most common side effects of interferon therapy are flu-like symptoms such as fever, joint pain and fatigue. In addition, interferon may have significant mental side effects, such as depression, aggression, sleep disorders, fatigue and drive disorders. For both alpha interferon and beta interferon, the reported side effects are very similar and common reasons for discontinuing interferon therapy.