The murine immune response to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection involves the activation of CD8+, class I MHC-restricted and virus-specific CTL. At times coinciding with CTL activation, high levels of IL-2 gene expression and production occur, the IL-2R is expressed, and T cell blastogenesis and proliferation are induced. We have previously found that, although both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subsets transcribe IL-2, the CD4+ subset appears to be the major producer of IL-2 whereas the CD8+ subset appears to be the major proliferating population when the subsets are separated after activation in vivo. The studies presented here were undertaken to examine the contribution made by the CD4+ subset to lymphocyte proliferation in vivo. Responses to LCMV infection were examined in intact mice and in mice depleted of CD4+ or CD8+ subsets by antibody treatments in vivo. Protocols were such that in vivo treatments with anti-CD4 or anti-CD8 depleted the respective subset by greater than 90%. In situ hybridizations demonstrated that the IL-2 gene was expressed in non-B lymphocytes isolated from either CD4+ cell-depleted or CD8+ cell-depleted mice on day 7 post-infection with LCMV. When placed in culture, however, cells from CD8+ cell-depleted mice produced significantly higher levels of detectable IL-2 than did cells isolated from CD4+ cell-depleted mice on day 7 post-infection. IL-2 was apparently produced in vivo in mice depleted of either CD4+ or CD8+ cells, as expression of the gene for the p55 chain of the IL-2R, IL-2 responsiveness, and lymphocyte proliferation were observed with cells isolated from both sets of mice. Lymphocyte proliferation was shown to be sustained in mice depleted of CD4+ cells in vivo by three criteria: 1) non-B lymphocytes isolated from infected mice depleted of CD4+ cells underwent more DNA synthesis than did those isolated from uninfected mice or from infected mice depleted of CD8+ cells; 2) leukocyte yields were expanded during infection of CD4+ cell-depleted mice; and 3) CD8+ cell numbers were increased during infection of CD4+ cell-depleted mice. The majority of non-B lymphocytes having the characteristics of blast lymphocytes was recovered in the CD8+ populations isolated from infected CD4+ cell-depleted mice. These findings suggest that the requirement for the CD4+ subset to sustain CD8+ lymphocyte proliferation in vivo is limited, and that CD4+ and CD8+ cell types can function independently in many aspects of their responses to viral infections.