Understanding the factors that impede immune responses to persistent viruses is essential in designing therapies for HIV infection. Mice infected with LCMV clone-13 have persistent high-level viremia and a dysfunctional immune response. Interleukin-7, a cytokine that is critical for immune development and homeostasis, was used here to promote immunity toward clone-13, enabling elucidation of the inhibitory pathways underlying impaired antiviral immune response. Mechanistically, IL-7 downregulated a critical repressor of cytokine signaling, Socs3, resulting in amplified cytokine production, increased T cell effector function and numbers, and viral clearance. IL-7 enhanced thymic output to expand the naive T cell pool, including T cells that were not LCMV specific. Additionally, IL-7 promoted production of cytoprotective IL-22 that abrogated liver pathology. The IL-7-mediated effects were dependent on endogenous IL-6. These attributes of IL-7 have profound implications for its use as a therapeutic in the treatment of chronic viral diseases.
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