The outcome of chronic viral infections, which affect millions of people worldwide, is greatly dependent on CD4⁺ T cells. Here we showed that T cell-specific ablation of the common interleukin-6 (IL-6) family receptor, gp130, profoundly compromised virus-specific CD4⁺ T cell survival, T follicular helper responses, and IL-21 production at late stages of chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection. These effects were cell intrinsic for CD4⁺ T cells and were accompanied by a reduction of CD8⁺ T cells, antibodies, and a severe failure in viral control. We identified IL-27 as a gp130 cytokine that promoted antiviral CD4⁺ T cell accumulation in vivo and that rapidly induced IL-21 ex vivo. Furthermore, IL-27R was critical for control of persistent LCMV in vivo. These results reveal that gp130 cytokines (particularly IL-27) are key regulators of CD4⁺ T cell responses during an established chronic viral infection, empowering both humoral and cytotoxic immunity.
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