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News Article

Novel chicken cytokine identified

Researchers have characterized chicken interferon kappa and demonstrated that it has antiviral activities.

Researchers from The Pirbright Institute have discovered a previously unknown interferon in chicken, which they identified as interferon kappa (IFN-K). They report their findings in Scientific Reports.

This type of interferon has previously only been known in a few species including humans, bats and mice. In order to better understand its significance in poultry, scientists undertook a parallel comparison between the chicken genome and the human genome to explore how IFN-K worked and what specific viruses it might protect chickens from.

The two viruses selected to test IFN-K were Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and avian influenza H9N2. These viruses were selected as they are currently causing the greatest economic losses globally.

The researchers created genetically modified chicken embryos, which contained a boosted IFN-K molecule and tested it using the two poultry viruses. The results showed the embryos were better protected and indicated that a chicken with enhanced IFN-K would provide it with innate protection against NDV and H9N2.

Of further interest was the discovery that IFN-K particularly expressed in chicken skin. This suggests its potential role in combatting poultry viruses that can infect a chicken’s skin, the most important of these being Marek’s disease.

Dr Muhammad Munir, who led the study, said: “Chickens fight viruses differently to humans and the mechanisms of this process are not well understood. Interferons were first discovered in chickens back in 1957, but 60 years later the full repertoire of interferons in poultry is still not yet fully explored.

“The discovery of IFN-K and the information we have been able to gain about its properties and the protection it gives, could offer chickens extra defence against some important diseases. What is especially interesting is that chickens may already possess the key to conquering some of the most dangerous diseases that affect them. Using genetic modification technology we can boost their innate ability to fight disease.”

Read article: Chicken IFN Kappa: A Novel Cytokine with Antiviral Activities by Diwakar Santhakumar, Munir Iqbal, Venugopal Nair and Muhammad Munir, published in Scientific Reports (2017) 7, article number: 2719, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-02951-2

Article details

  • Date
  • 15 June 2017
  • Subject(s)
  • Veterinary medicine