Early IFN-alpha/beta production, followed by the development of a viral-specific CTL response, are critical factors in limiting the level of murine gamma-herpesvirus-68 (gammaHV-68) infection. Development of a long-lived CTL response requires T cell help, and these CTLs most likely function to limit the extent of infection following reactivation. The importance of IL-12 in the development and/or activity of Th1 cells and CTLs is well documented, and we investigated the kinetics and magnitude of gammaHV-68-induced IL-12 production. Following intranasal infection, IL-12 and IL-23 mRNA expression was up-regulated in lung and spleen and lung, respectively, followed by increased levels of IL-12p40 in lung homogenates and sera. Exposure of cultured macrophages or dendritic cells to gammaHV-68 induced secretion of IL-12, suggesting that these cells might be responsible for IL-12 production in vivo. gammaHV-68 infection of mice made genetically deficient in IL-12p40 expression (IL-12p40(-/-)) resulted in a leukocytosis and splenomegaly that was significantly less than that observed in syngeneic C57BL/6 mice. IL-12p40(-/-) mice showed increased levels of infectious virus in the lung, but only at day 9 postinfection. Increased levels of latent virus in the spleen at day 15 postinfection were also observed in IL-12p40(-/-) mice when compared with syngeneic C57BL/6 mice. An overall reduction in gammaHV-68-induced IFN-gamma production was observed in IL-12p40(-/-) mice, suggesting that most of the viral-induced IFN-gamma in C57BL/6 mice was IL-12 dependent. Taken together, these results suggest that gammaHV-68-induced IL-12 contributes to the pathophysiology of viral infection while also functioning to limit viral burden.