What is Interferon Beta-1a?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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Health care providers frequently prescribe interferon beta-1a, an amino acid glycoprotein, for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS). In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties, the substance typically acts by regulating immune function through communication with other cells. Researchers believe interferon beta-1a reduces the effects of the disease whether prescribed for newly diagnosed patients or for those with a progressive or relapsing forms of MS. MS patients inject the medication subcutaneously every other day or intramuscularly once a week.

Interferons belong to a group of chemicals that are naturally produced in the body by the white blood cells known as macrophages. Another job that these cells typically perform includes devouring invading organisms. Individual interferons have different capabilities. Interferon beta-1a generally acts as a body cell signaler because when the substance attaches itself to specific receptor sites on the cell surface, special genetic coding takes place within the cell. In addition to immunoregulation, the substance interferes with virus replication.

Researchers discovered that under certain circumstances, elevated levels of interferons in the blood help the body fight disease, as appears to be the case with MS sufferers. Manufacturers usually mass-produce interferon beta-1a by injecting the human substance into the ovaries of Chinese hamsters. The chemical byproduct has the exact amino acid chain as that of the original human substance. As interferon beta-1a attaches to nerve cells of MS patients, the number of lesions commonly associated with the disease is markedly reduced.


Nerve cells normally have a protective outer coating known as the myelin sheath. In MS patients, this coating deteriorates and is replaced by scar tissue. As a result of the insulation corruption, signals along and between nerve cells become disrupted, owing to a wide array of symptoms. Body imaging scans depict these areas of scar tissue as lesions that may appear throughout the brain, spinal column and peripheral nerve tissue. In addition to producing scars along the bodies of nerve cells, these areas become inflamed, applying pressure to sensitive nerve tissue, which results in pain and further signal interference. Interferon beta-1a attaches to nerve cells and appears to slow the progression of the disease in over one third of the patients who consistently inject the medication.

The most frequent adverse effects noted by patients using interferon beta-1a include flu-like symptoms, which may disappear within a few days. The medication has the potential to exacerbate or cause depression and suicidal ideation. Patients with a diagnosis of angina, congestive heart failure or abnormal cardiac rhythms might experience a worsening of symptoms while taking interferon beta-1a.


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