Optimization of protective immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 remains an urgent worldwide priority. In this regard, type III IFN (IFN-λ) restricts SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro, and treatment with IFN-λ limits infection, inflammation, and pathogenesis in murine models. Furthermore, IFN-λ has been developed for clinical use to limit COVID-19 severity. However, whether endogenous IFN-λ signaling has an effect on SARS-CoV-2 antiviral immunity and long-term immune protection in vivo is unknown. In this study, we identified a requirement for IFN-λ signaling in promoting viral clearance and protective immune programming in SARS-CoV-2 infection of mice. Expression of both IFN and IFN-stimulated gene (ISG) in the lungs were minimally affected by the absence of IFN-λ signaling and correlated with transient increases in viral titers. We found that IFN-λ supported the generation of protective CD8 T cell responses against SARS-CoV-2 by facilitating accumulation of CD103+ DC in lung draining lymph nodes (dLN). IFN-λ signaling specifically in DCs promoted the upregulation of costimulatory molecules and the proliferation of CD8 T cells. Intriguingly, antigen-specific CD8 T cell immunity to SARS-CoV-2 was independent of type I IFN signaling, revealing a nonredundant function of IFN-λ. Overall, these studies demonstrate a critical role for IFN-λ in protective innate and adaptive immunity upon infection with SARS-CoV-2 and suggest that IFN-λ serves as an immune adjuvant to support CD8 T cell immunity.


Abigail D. Solstad, Parker J. Denz, Adam D. Kenney, Najmus S. Mahfooz, Samuel Speaks, Qiaoke Gong, Richard T. Robinson, Matthew E. Long, Adriana Forero, Jacob S. Yount, Emily A. Hemann


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