Alpha interferons (α-IFNs) are potent biologically active proteins synthesized and secreted by somatic cells during viral infection. Quantification of α-IFN concentrations in biological samples is used for diagnosis. More recently, recombinant IFNs have been used as antiviral, antiproliferative, and immunomodulatory therapeutic agents, and particularly for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus infection. For this purpose, IFN has recently been coupled to polyethylene glycol (PEG) to improve the pharmacokinetic properties. The measure of α-IFN in biological samples from treated patients could be useful to ensure compliance to therapy and the true IFN activity in relation to viral decay during follow-up. In particular, it could be used to monitor the PEG-IFN concentration in patients treated for hepatitis C virus infection. The most frequently used test is a bioassay based on the antiviral property of the IFN, but the assay is not highly reproducible. Here, we present a reporter test based on MxA promoter activation of chloramphenicol acetyltransferase expression (Mx-CAT). MxA is an antiviral protein induced and tightly regulated by α-IFN. The Mx-CAT assay showed good reproducibility of 15% and was suitable to quantify PEG-IFN and numerous other α-IFN subtypes as well, despite a differential MxA promoter activation in relation with the subtype. A good correlation was obtained with the reporter assay and a commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay on samples from treated patients. This test could be useful for monitoring IFN therapy of chronically infected hepatitis C virus-infected patients treated with the standard IFN, PEG-IFN, and probably forthcoming recombinant IFNs
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