Infection with viruses carrying cross-reactive antigens is associated with break of immunological tolerance and induction of autoimmune disease. Dendritic cells play an important role in this process. However, it remains unclear why autoimmune-tolerance is broken during virus infection, but usually not during exposure to non-replicating cross-reactive antigens. Here we show that antigen derived from replicating virus but not from non-replicating sources undergoes a multiplication process in dendritic cells in spleen and lymph nodes. This enforced viral replication was dependent on Usp18 and was essential for expansion of autoreactive CD8⁺ T cells. Preventing enforced virus replication by depletion of CD11c⁺ cells, genetically deleting Usp18, or pharmacologically inhibiting of viral replication blunted the expansion of autoreactive CD8⁺ T cells and prevented autoimmune diabetes. In conclusion, Usp18-driven enforced viral replication in dendritic cells can break immunological tolerance and critically influences induction of autoimmunity.