Type I interferons (IFNs) elicit antiviral, antiproliferative and immunomodulatory responses through binding to a shared receptor consisting of the transmembrane proteins ifnar1 and ifnar2. Differential signaling by different interferons, in particular IFNalphas and IFNbeta, suggests different modes of receptor engagement. Using reflectometric interference spectroscopy (RIfS), we studied kinetics and affinities of the interactions between IFNs and the extracellular receptor domains of ifnarl (ifnar1-EC) and ifnar2 (ifnar2-EC). For IFNalpha2, we determined a K-D value of 3 nM and 5 muM for the interaction with ifnar2-EC and ifnar1-EC, respectively. As compared to IFNalpha2, IFNbeta formed complexes with ifnar2-EC as well as ifnar1-EC with substantially higher affinity. For neither IFNalpha2 nor IFNbeta was stabilization of the complex with ifnar1-EC in the presence of soluble ifnar2-EC observed. We investigated ligand-induced complex formation with ifnar1-EC and ifnar2-EC being tethered onto solid-supported, fluid lipid bilayers by RIfS and total internal reflection fluorescence spectroscopy. We observed very stable binding of IFNalpha2 at high receptor surface concentrations with an apparent k(d) value approximately 200 times lower than that for ifnar2-EC alone. The apparent kd value was strongly dependent on the surface concentration of the receptor components, suggesting kinetic stabilization. This was corroborated by the fast exchange of labeled IFNalpha2 bound to the receptor by unlabeled IFNalpha2. Taken together, our results indicate that IFN first binds to ifnar2 and subsequently recruits ifnarl in a transient fashion. In particular, this second step is much more efficient for IFNbeta than for IFNalpha2, which could explain differential activities observed for these IFNs. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.