Type I interferons (IFNs) are multifunctional cytokines that activate cellular responses by binding a common receptor consisting of two subunits, IFNAR-1 and IFNAR-2. Although the binding of IFNs to IFNAR-2 is well characterized, the binding to the lower affinity IFNAR-1 remains less well understood. Previous reports identified a region of human IFN-α2 on the B and C helices ("site IA": N65, L80, Y85, Y89) that plays a key role in binding IFNAR-1 and contributes strongly to differential activation by various type I IFNs. The current studies demonstrate that residues on the D helix are also involved in IFNAR-1 binding. In particular, residue 120 (Arg in IFN-α2; Lys in IFN-α2/α1) appears to be a "hot-spot" residue: substitution by alanine significantly decreased biological activity, and the charge-reversal mutation of residue 120 to Glu caused drastic loss of antiviral and antiproliferative activity for both IFN-α2 and IFN-α2/α1. Mutations in residues of helix D maintained their affinity for IFNAR-2 but had decreased affinity for IFNAR-1. Single-site or multiple-site mutants in the IFNAR-1 binding site that had little or no detectable in vitro biological activity were capable of blocking in vitro antiviral and antiproliferative activity of native IFN-α2; i.e., they are type I IFN antagonists. These prototype IFN antagonists can be developed further for possible therapeutic use in systemic lupus erythematosus, and analogous molecules can be designed for use in animal models.
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