Interferons are a type of cytokines, proteins produced by different cells of the immune system and that have the function of coordinating the entire immune response. From inducing cell proliferation and differentiation, to regulating gene expression, through activating or blocking the activity of some immune cells. These are small proteins that are synthesized and only act on cells that have receptors for them. The binding of cytokine and receptor triggers cellular signaling that ends up inducing the aforementioned functions.
Although interleukins, colony stimulating factors, interferons are included within cytokines, today we will focus on the latter.
Interferons play a key role in the immune response against pathogens, and are capable of, among other functions, promoting anti-viral activity and activating Natural Killer cells, which are responsible for marking and destroying the pathogens that invade us.
In turn, we can differentiate various types of interferons: alpha, beta and gamma, and even subclasses, each with more specific functions. Today, these interferons are used to treat multiple diseases: Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis B and C, some tumor types … In this way, ways have been developed to produce these natural molecules on a large scale.
But why are interferons a BIOPRODUCT?
Because recombinant DNA technology is used to produce them. For us to understand, it is about using, to produce a protein, an organism that does not generate it naturally. This requires creating a DNA construct (a plasmid) into which the gene of interest is inserted along with other components. This plasmid (which acts as an expression vector) with our gene, is then introduced into a microorganism.
This microorganism will be cultivated to induce it to multiply as many times as possible. In this way, we will have many microorganisms with our gene. This gene will be expressed by all of them and thus we will obtain in great quantity the protein of interest.
In the case of interferons, the microorganism of choice is usually E. coli, a well-studied bacterium that is well known by researchers. What should we do? Provide this bacterium with the cultivation conditions that they like the most: temperature, pH, nutrients … Later, it will take care of multiplying itself and generating the interferon that we will only have to isolate and purify.