Aim: Patients with chronic hepatitis C are frequently treated with interferon (IFN)-α. Autoimmune thyroid disease occurs in 20% ~ 40% of IFN-α-treated patients. In this study, the effects of IFN-α administration on triggering and regulating autoimmune thyroiditis in various animal models were evaluated. Main methods: Exogenous IFN-α was given to naive CBA mice, and both thyroglobulin (TG) immunization-induced (CBA) and spontaneous autoimmune thyroiditis (NOD·H-2 h4) models. Thyroid function, and anti-thyroglobulin antibody (ATA) and B-cell-activating factor (BAFF) levels were measured. Alterations in transcriptome profiles were analyzed. Key findings: In the TG-induced thyroiditis model, IFN-α administration reduced plasma free thyroxine levels but did not alter ATA titers, BAFF levels, or the severity of histological changes. Interestingly, even without changes in thyroid functions, four of eight mice in the IFN-α alone group exhibited thyroiditis compared to the control group. Immunologically, mice in the IFN-α group exhibited profound CD3+ cell infiltration in the thyroid and higher plasma BAFF levels compared to the control group. Meanwhile, pathological and serological alterations after IFN-α administration were not observed in the NOD·H-2 h4 model. An RNA sequencing analysis revealed that immunoregulatory signatures were not excited by IFN-α treatment in naive CBA mice. Meanwhile, innate and adaptive immunity, inflammatory cytokine, chemokine, and cell-killing signaling pathways were all stimulated by IFN-α administration after TG immunization of CBA mice. Significance: We confirmed the remarkable effects of IFN-α in both initiating thyroid immunity and modulating thyroid function and immunoregulatory signatures in established autoimmune thyroiditis. We suggest that IFN-α should be administered with caution in clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120172
JournalLife Sciences
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2022


  • CBA
  • Interferon-α
  • NOD·H-2 h4
  • Thyroglobulin
  • Thyroiditis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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