One component of the protective host response against mucosal pathogens includes the local production and increased expression of certain neuropeptides and their receptors. The present study further demonstrates this fact by investigating the contribution that substance P receptor expression makes toward immunity against a gamma-herpesvirus infection. Following intragastric inoculation with murine gamma-herpesvirus 68 (gamma HV-68), expression of substance P and its receptor was increased in mucosal and peripheral lymphoid organs in wild-type strains of mice. These results suggested that this receptor/ligand pair might be an important component of the host response against this viral infection. Such a hypothesis was supported by the demonstration that mice, genetically deficient in substance P receptor expression, showed an increased viral burden when compared with syngeneic C57BL/6 mice. Furthermore, substance P receptor-deficient mice showed a reduced CTL response against gamma HV-68, suggesting a mechanism to explain this increased viral burden. Such limitations in the Ag-specific CTL response in substance P receptor-deficient mice could result from lowered expression of IL-12 during viral infection. Consistent with this hypothesis, increases in mRNA encoding IL-12 and secretion of this cytokine into sera of infected, wild-type animals were markedly reduced in substance P receptor-deficient mice. These studies demonstrate that genetic elimination of substance P receptors in mice results in an increased gamma-herpesvirus burden and an altered host response.