The supplementation of IFN-α has been widely applied in livestock and poultry industry. In recent years, the effects of IFN-α have been investigated, as immunoregulator, antivirals, vaccine adjuvant and immunopotentiator etc. (Li et al., 2018) The oral administration of IFN-α in pig showed better adaptive immune response (Brockmeier et al., 2017; Razzuoli, Dotti, Archetti, & Amadori, 2010). It was resulted from the regulatory effect on IFN-γ gene and the increase of IFN-γ-secreting lymphocytes. Thus, the serum IFN-γ can be applied as an indicator for the effects of IFN-α (Razzuoli et al., 2010). Further, antiviral activity of IFN-α was also reported. The recombinant, replication-defective human adenovirus type 5 vectors containing porcine IFN-α (Ad5-pIFNα) was constructed. The pigs inoculated with 109 PFU of Ad5-pIFNα were completely protected when challenged 24 h later with foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). The animals showed no clinical signs, no viremia, and did not develop antibodies against viral nonstructural proteins, achieving complete protection from FMDV infection (Chinsangaram, Moraes, Koster, & Grubman, 2003; Moraes et al., 2007). After the administration of a nonreplicating human adenovirus type 5 vector expressing porcine IFN-α, innate and adaptive immune responses of pigs to PRRSV can be improved. Viremia was delayed, and viral load was decreased in the sera of pigs. Further, the number of virus-specific IFN-γ-secreting cells was increased (Brockmeier et al., 2012). In another study, IFN-α was administered via an adenovirus vector as an adjuvant with live-attenuated PRRSV vaccine for enhancing immune response to the vaccine. However, the assumed adjuvant effect was not observed and IFN-α inhibited replication of the vaccine virus (Brockmeier et al., 2017). IFN-α was also applied as mucosal adjuvant for influenza vaccine in pigs. The combination of low-dose IFN-α and inactivated influenza virus via nasal infusion could significantly up-regulate the expression of immunoregulatory cytokines and induce a strong mucosal innate immune response (Liu et al., 2019).
Most of previous studies focused on the effects of IFN-α against virus, in our study, the health piglets were administrated with IFN-α. The effects on serum IFN-γ were explored. The results proved that the IFN-α was able to elevate the serum IFN-γ level, as well as the expression levels of IFN-stimulated genes, in the subsequent days after the treatment. The result may help in controlling viral diseases during daily care of piglets, especially for the farms at the threaten of African swine fever virus.
The administration pathways have been another important factor for affecting the effects of IFN-α, which should be selected according to the specific applications. One study compared the therapeutic effect of natural chicken IFN-α administered via oral and intramuscular (i.m.) routes against Newcastle Disease (ND) in broiler chicken. The protection effects were better in chicken treated with IFN-α via the oral route than in those treated via the i.m. route (Anjum et al., 2020). Similarly, broilers were administrated with recombinant IFN-α via intravenous, intramuscular, and subcutaneous injections. The results showed that the half-life of IFN was faster, reaching a peak in about 3 ~ 4 hours (Zhao et al., 2017). In previous study, after the intramuscular injection of 24.5 × 106 IU IFN-α2b and IFN-γ complex, serum IFN-α and IFN-γ began to rise at several hours after the treatment, and then declined after reaching the peak in the human body (García-García et al., 2016). In our study, the oral administration (1500 IU per day per piglet) and intramuscular injection (4× 106 IU per day per piglet) was compared. The oral administration exhibited a gradually increased efficacy lasted for 10 days, while the intramuscular injection presented a rapid but quickly weakened efficacy lasted for only a few days. The oral administration was economic and effective, in addition, much facile than that of other pathways, such as the construction and injection of IFN-α loading vectors.
The active ingredients in traditional Chinese herb have been reported to regulate the IFN secretion. Studies found that the content of serum IFN-γ was significantly increased after 21 days of applying astragalus polysaccharides in piglet diets, but it had no significant effect on IgG, IL-4 and IL-10 (Yuan et al., 2006). A similar result found that a compound traditional Chinese herb based on astragalus polysaccharide, epimedium polysaccharide, propolis flavonoids and saponins significantly increased the mRNA relative expression levels of IFN-γ and IL-10 (L. Yang et al., 2008). However, in our study, it found that compound traditional Chinese herb, involving astragalus, epimedium, privet, etc., made no significant effect on piglet serum IFN-γ. The reason may be the improper compatibility, insufficient amount, or slow efficacy. Compared to traditional Chinese herb, the administration of IFN-α may provide a more controllable efficacy.
Antiviral proteins MX1 and ISG15 are secreted by JAK/STAT signaling in an unconventional secretion pathway (Novakova et al., 2010; Toyokawa, Carling, & Ott, 2007). In this study, the relative mRNA expression levels of IFN-stimulated genes MX1 and ISG15 were significantly correlated, indicating that MX1 and ISG15 were expression-related genes. The determination of MX1 and ISG15 may assist in exploring the mechanism of IFN-stimulated responses. From the results of our study, it found that the treatment method significantly affected the mRNA expression levels of MX1 and ISG15. For MX1, the oral administration of recombinant IFN-α can significantly elevate its mRNA expression level on Day 2 of treatment, while the intramuscular administration can significantly increase the mRNA expression level on Day 9. For ISG15, the oral administration of recombinant IFN-α can increase its mRNA expression level on Day 3. No significant difference was observed in other treatment time points. Further analysis revealed no correlation between serum IFN-γ and IFN-stimulated genes. It indicated that exogenous treatment can regulate the serum IFN-γ and IFN-stimulated genes independently. Due to the complexity of immune-regulation, the mechanism of IFN-α treatment remained to be explored.