IL-21 has been shown to play an important role in the CD8 T cell response during acute and chronic viral infections. However, the role of IL-21 signaling in the CD4 T cell response to viral infection remains incompletely defined. In a model of infection with vaccinia virus, we show that intrinsic IL-21 signaling on CD4 T cells was critical for the formation of memory CD4 T cells in vivo. We further reveal that IL-21 promoted CD4 T cell survival in a mechanism dependent on activation of the STAT1 and STAT3 signaling pathways. In addition, the activation of Akt is also required for IL-21–dependent survival of CD4 T cells in vivo. These results identify a critical role for intrinsic IL-21 signaling in CD4 T cell survival and memory formation in response to viral infection in vivo and may provide insights into the design of effective vaccine strategies.
Yuqing Yuan, Yiping Yang, Xiaopei Huang