Interferons are proteins or glycoproteins produced by different cell types in response to various stimuli, including viral infections. Three classes of interferons are distinguished according to their structural and biological characteristics: interferon alpha or leukocyte type, interferon beta or fibroblastic type and interferon gamma or immune type, produced by T lymphocytes and natural killer cells.
Interferons α, of which several subtypes have been identified, are non-glycosylated polypeptides, while interferons beta, gamma and kappa are glycosylated polypeptides. Alpha and beta interferons are produced by monocytes, leukocytes, lymphocytes in response to viruses and other stimuli called type I inducers comprising other microorganisms, microbial components and various synthetic compounds.
They play an important role in the response to acute viral infections, as mediators of the non-specific viral response that precedes the specific response although they will also be involved in the modulation of that immune response and as immunomodulators in general.
They also have antiproliferative actions and therefore therapeutic uses of alpha interferons have been developed for some antineoplastic processes and autoimmune diseases.
Just as alpha and beta interferons, also called type I interferons, have antiviral, antiproliferative and immune properties, gamma and kappa interferons, produced by T lymphocytes in response to antigenic stimuli, act only as immunomodulators.
Through various procedures, several alpha interferons have been developed for administration as antiviral drugs.
Several technologies have been developed to unite interferon to different molecules that allow its permanence in the tissues after its administration and thus, in addition to being able to distance the injections, to improve its effectiveness.
The first products developed with this objective have been pegylated (the conjugation of a protein and/or peptide with one or more polyethylene glycol molecules). Polyethylene glycol is a non-toxic, non-immunogenic polymer that constitutes the current basis of the treatment, other technologies are under development, such as the binding to an albumin.
Infertility is an occasional side effect of interferon use and can affect both men and women.
Male infertility from interferon can be reversed after a few months or years. However, female infertility is usually the result of the drug triggering early menopause so it will be permanent.
Anyone who wants to become a parent and who is going to be treated with interferon should talk to their doctor about freezing their sperm or eggs before the procedure. Interferons have been considered apoptosis-inducing cytokines.
Type 1 and type 2 interferons have been found in the testicles, and are stimulated by viral infections, particularly in the Sertoli and Leydig cells. They are involved in protecting the testicles against viral infections.
Interferons have been shown to induce apoptosis by activating the cascade of apoptosis receptors (cell death) in cancer patients. Increased apoptosis could impair spermatogenesis in male patients undergoing interferon treatment.
Interferon alpha has been approved in the United States for the treatment of condyloma acuminatum, chronic hepatitis C, chronic hepatitis B, Kaposi’s sarcoma in patients with HIV infection and other malignant diseases such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and urogenital carcinomas such as renal cell cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Interferons can have direct effects such as inhibition of cell proliferation, induction of differentiation and antiviral effects, and indirect effects such as stimulation of immune functions, against angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels), etc.
Interferon alpha can damage testicular tissue even at clinical treatment doses used. Therefore, men of childbearing age should be warned about the use of alpha-interferon in the treatment of various diseases.
The injection of interferon beta is used to reduce episodes of symptoms in patients with recurrent multiple sclerosis -remission (course of disease in which symptoms arise from time to time) of (MS, a disease in which nerves do not function properly, and patients may experience weakness, loss of muscle coordination and problems with vision, speech and or bladder control). is also used for remission in Crohn’s disease.
Interferon beta belongs to a class of drugs called immunomodulators. It can lead to changes in sexual desire or sexual performance (in men).
The role of cell immunity in male infertility is still far from clear. Gamma interferon is produced by activated T cells and natural killer cells and is used to prevent serious infections in people with a condition called chronic granulomatous disease and also to slow the progression of a bone disorder called malignant osteoporosis. Its usefulness in colon cancer, melanoma and bladder cancer is being studied.
It has been hypothesized that it has a toxic effect on sperm function since a significant negative correlation has been detected between interferon levels and sperm count, motility and morphology, while no correlation was found with leukocyte count.
These findings confirm the presence of gamma interferon in seminal plasma and show an increase in seminal plasma secretion in the infertile group and spermiogram parameters and may play an important role in male infertility.
Kappa interferon is used to treat Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, in this pathology there is an overexpression of alpha interferon, at the moment it is unknown if it affects fertility.