Interferon, induced in lymphocytes either with viruses or cell lines, increases severalfold the natural cytotoxicity of human lymphocytes on target cell lines. Cell separation experiments support the hypothesis that interferon enhances the activity of natural killer cells rather than generating a new population of effector cells. In mixed culture of lymphocytes and cell lines in which endogenous interferon is produced, interferon mediates an enhancement of cytotoxicity that represents up to 70-90% of the observed cytotoxicity. The effect of interferon on target cells is antagonistic to the effect on the lymphocytes: the susceptibility to cell-mediated lysis of various cells upon pretreatment with interferon is decreased and in some cases almost completely suppressed. Interferon renders target cells resistant to natural killer cells acting by an intracellular mechanism which requires RNA and protein synthesis. While normal fibroblasts are protected, virus-infected cells and most tumor cells usually are not protected by interferon. Interferon by stimulating very efficient nonspecific cytotoxic cells and by protecting at the same time normal cells from lysis, might render the natural killer cell system an inducible selective defense mechanism against tumor and virus-infected cells.

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