BACKGROUNDInterferon-beta (IFN-beta) activates the immune response through the type I IFN signaling pathway. IFN-beta is important in the response to pathogen infections and is used as a therapy for Multiple Sclerosis. The mechanisms of self-regulation and control of this pathway allow precise and environment-dependent response of the cells in different conditions. Here we analyzed type I IFN signaling in response to IFN-beta in the macrophage cell line RAW 264.7 by RT-PCR, ELISA and xMAP assays. The experimental results were interpreted by means of a theoretical model of the pathway.RESULTSPhosphorylation of the STAT1 protein (pSTAT1) and mRNA levels of the pSTAT1 inhibitor SOCS1 displayed an attenuated oscillatory behavior after IFN-beta activation. In turn, mRNA levels of the interferon regulatory factor IRF1 grew rapidly in the first 50-90 minutes after stimulation until a maximum value, and started to decrease slowly around 200-250 min. The analysis of our kinetic model identified a significant role of the negative feedback from SOCS1 in driving the observed damped oscillatory dynamics, and of the positive feedback from IRF1 in increasing STAT1 basal levels. Our study shows that the system works as a biological damped relaxation oscillator based on a phosphorylation-dephosphorylation network centered on STAT1. Moreover, a bifurcation analysis identified translocation of pSTAT1 dimers to the nucleus as a critical step for regulating the dynamics of type I IFN pathway in the first steps, which may be important in defining the response to IFN-beta therapy.CONCLUSIONSThe immunomodulatory effect of IFN-beta signaling in macrophages takes the form of transient oscillatory dynamics of the JAK-STAT pathway, whose specific relaxation properties determine the lifetime of the cellular response to the cytokine.