CD40 ligand (CD40L), a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family member, plays a critical role in antigen-specific T cell responses in vivo. CD40L expressed on activated CD4+ T cells stimulates antigen-presenting cells such as dendritic cells, resulting in the upregulation of costimulatory molecules and the production of various inflammatory cytokines required for CD4+ T cell priming in vivo. However, CD40L- or CD40-deficient mice challenged with viruses mount protective CD4+ T cell responses that produce normal levels of interferon γ, suggesting a CD40L/CD40-independent mechanism of CD4+ T cell priming that to date has not been elucidated. Here we show that CD4+ T cell responses to viral infection were greatly diminished in CD40-deficient mice by administration of a soluble form of TNF-related activation-induced cytokine receptor (TRANCE-R) to inhibit the function of another TNF family member, TRANCE. Thus, the TRANCE/TRANCE-R interaction provides costimulation required for efficient CD4+ T cell priming during viral infection in the absence of CD40L/CD40. These results also indicate that not even the potent inflammatory microenvironment induced by viral infections is sufficient to elicit efficient CD4+ T cell priming without proper costimulation provided by the TNF family (CD40L or TRANCE). Moreover, the data suggest that TRANCE/TRANCE-R may be a novel and important target for immune intervention.