Fundamental properties of the mammalian innate immune system revealed by multispecies comparison of type I interferon responses

The type I interferon (IFN) response is triggered upon sensing of an incoming pathogen in an infected cell and results in the expression of hundreds of IFN-stimulated genes (ISGs, collectively referred to as "the interferome"). Studies on the interferome have been carried out mainly in human cells and therefore often lack the power to understand comparative evolutionary aspects of this critical pathway. In this study, we characterized the interferome in several animal species (including humans) using a single experimental framework. This approach allowed us to identify fundamental properties of the innate immune system. In particular, we revealed 62 'core' ISGs, up-regulated in response to IFN in all vertebrates, highlighting the ancestral functions of the IFN system. In addition, we show that many genes repressed by the IFN response normally function as regulators of cell transcription. ISGs shared by multiple species have a higher propensity than other genes to exist as multiple copies in the genome. Importantly, we observed that genes have arisen as ISGs throughout evolution. Hence, every animal species possesses a unique repertoire of ISGs that includes core and lineage-specific genes. Collectively, our data provide a framework on which it will be possible to test the role of the IFN response in pathogen emergence and cross-species transmission.

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