Intestinal barrier leakage constitutes a potential therapeutic target for many inflammatory diseases and represents a disease progression marker during chronic viral infections. However, the causes of altered gut barrier remain mostly unknown. Using murine infection with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, we demonstrate that, in contrast to an acute viral strain, a persistent viral isolate leads to long-term viral replication in hematopoietic and mesenchymal cells, but not epithelial cells (IECs), in the intestine. Viral persistence drove sustained intestinal epithelial barrier leakage, which was characterized by increased paracellular flux of small molecules and was associated with enhanced colitis susceptibility. Type I IFN signaling caused tight junction dysregulation in IECs, promoted gut microbiome shifts and enhanced intestinal CD8 T cell responses. Notably, both type I IFN receptor blockade and CD8 T cell depletion prevented infection-induced barrier leakage. Our study demonstrates that infection with a virus that persistently replicates in the intestinal mucosa increases epithelial barrier permeability and reveals type I IFNs and CD8 T cells as causative factors of intestinal leakage during chronic infections.

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