The cytokine interferon-γ (IFNγ) is a central coordinator of innate and adaptive immunity, but its highly pleiotropic actions have diminished its prospects for use as an immunotherapeutic agent. Here, we took a structure-based approach to decoupling IFNγ pleiotropy. We engineered an affinity-enhanced variant of the ligand-binding chain of the IFNγ receptor IFNγR1, which enabled us to determine the crystal structure of the complete hexameric (2:2:2) IFNγ–IFNγR1–IFNγR2 signalling complex at 3.25 Å resolution. The structure reveals the mechanism underlying deficits in IFNγ responsiveness in mycobacterial disease syndrome resulting from a T168N mutation in IFNγR2, which impairs assembly of the full signalling complex. The topology of the hexameric complex offers a blueprint for engineering IFNγ variants to tune IFNγ receptor signalling output. Unexpectedly, we found that several partial IFNγ agonists exhibited biased gene-expression profiles. These biased agonists retained the ability to induce upregulation of major histocompatibility complex class I antigen expression, but exhibited impaired induction of programmed death-ligand 1 expression in a wide range of human cancer cell lines, offering a route to decoupling immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive functions of IFNγ for therapeutic applications.
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