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Poxviruses encode proteins that block the activity of cytokines. Here we show that the study of such virulence factors can contribute to our understanding of not only virus pathogenesis but also the physiological role of cytokines. Fever is a nonspecific response to infection that contributes to host defense. Several cytokines induce an elevation of body temperature when injected into animals, but in naturally occurring fever it has been difficult to show that any cytokine has a critical role. We describe the first example of the suppression of fever by a virus and the molecular mechanism leading to it. Several vaccinia virus strains including smallpox vaccines express soluble interleukin 1 (IL-1) receptors, which bind IL-1 beta but not IL-1 alpha. These viruses prevent the febrile response in infected mice, whereas strains that naturally or through genetic engineering lack the receptor induce fever. Repair of the defective IL-1 beta inhibitor in the smallpox vaccine Copenhagen, a more virulent virus than the widely used vaccine strains Wyeth and Lister, suppresses fever and attenuates the disease. The vaccinia-induced fever was inhibited with antibodies to IL-1 beta. These findings provide strong evidence that IL-1 beta, and not other cytokines, is the major endogenous pyrogen in a poxvirus infection.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date





11029 - 11034