Double stranded RNA is generated during viral replication. The synthetic analog poly I:C is frequently used to mimic anti-viral innate immune responses in models of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disease including autism, schizophrenia, Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers disease. Many studies perform limited analysis of innate immunity despite these responses potentially differing as a function of dsRNA molecular weight and age. Therefore fundamental questions relevant to impacts of systemic viral infection on brain function and integrity remain. Here, we studied innate immune-inducing properties of poly I:C preparations of different lengths and responses in adult and aged mice. High molecular weight (HMW) poly I:C (1 to 6 kb, 12 mg/kg) produced more robust sickness behavior and more robust IL-6, IFN-I and TNF alpha responses than poly I:C of less than 500 bases (low MW) preparations. This was partly overcome with higher doses of LMW (up to 80 mg/kg), but neither circulating IFN beta nor brain transcription of Irf7 were significantly induced by LMW poly I:C, despite brain Ifnb transcription, suggesting that brain IFN-dependent gene expression is predominantly triggered by circulating IFN beta binding of IFNAR1. In aged animals, poly I:C induced exaggerated IL-6, IL-1beta and IFN-I in the plasma and similar exaggerated brain cytokine responses. This was associated with acute working memory deficits selectively in aged mice. Thus, we demonstrate dsRNA length, IFNAR1 and age-dependent effects on antiviral inflammation and cognitive function. The data have implications for CNS symptoms of acute systemic viral infection such as those with SARS-CoV-2 and for models of maternal immune activation.