BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Interferon (IFN)-α, composed of numerous subtypes, plays a crucial role in immune defense. As the most studied subtype, IFN-α2 has been used for treating chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, with advantages of finite treatment duration and sustained virologic response, but its efficacy remains relatively low. This study aimed to screen for IFN-α subtypes with the highest anti-HBV potency and to characterize mechanisms of IFN-α-mediated HBV restriction.
APPROACH AND RESULTS: Using cell culture-based HBV infection systems and a human-liver chimeric mouse model, IFN-α subtype-mediated antiviral response and signaling activation were comprehensively analyzed. IFN-α14 was identified as the most effective subtype in suppression of HBV covalently closed circular DNA transcription and HBV e antigen/HBV surface antigen production, with median inhibitory concentration values approximately 100-fold lower than those of the conventional IFN-α2. IFN-α14 alone elicited IFN-α and IFN-γ signaling crosstalk in a manner similar to the combined use of IFN-α2 and IFN-γ, inducing multiple potent antiviral effectors, which synergistically restricted HBV replication. Guanylate binding protein 5, one of the most differentially expressed genes between IFN-α14-treated and IFN-α2-treated liver cells, was identified as an HBV restriction factor. A strong IFN-α-IFN-α receptor subunit 1 interaction determines the anti-HBV activity of IFN-α. The in vivo anti-HBV activity of IFN-α14 and treatment-related transcriptional patterns were further confirmed, and few adverse effects were observed.
CONCLUSIONS: A concerted IFN-α and IFN-γ response in liver, which could be efficiently elicited by IFN-α subtype 14, is associated with potent HBV suppression. These data deepen the understanding of the divergent activities of IFN-α subtypes and the mechanism underlying the synergism between IFN-α and IFN-γ signaling, with implications for improved IFN therapy and HBV curative strategies.