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The classical human interferon-alpha (HuIFN-alpha) gene family is estimated to consist of 15 or more nonallelic members which encode proteins sharing greater than 77% amino acid sequence homology. Low-stringency hybridization with a HuIFN-alpha cDNA probe permitted the isolation of two distinct classes of bovine IFN-alpha genes. The first subfamily (class I) is more closely related to the known HuIFN-alpha genes than to the second subfamily (class II) of bovine IFN-alpha genes. Extensive analysis of the human genome has revealed a HuIFN-alpha gene subfamily corresponding to the class II bovine IFN-alpha genes. The class I human and bovine IFN-alpha genes encode mature IFN polypeptides of 165 to 166 amino acids, whereas the class II IFN-alpha genes encode 172 amino acid proteins. Expression in Escherichia coli of members of both gene subfamilies results in polypeptides having potent antiviral activity. In contrast to previous studies which found no evidence of class II IFN-alpha protein or mRNA expression, we demonstrate that the class I and class II IFN-alpha genes are coordinately induced in response to viral infection.