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J Virol. 1996 Aug; 70(8): 4884–4894.
PMCID: PMC190438

Frequency of multiple Epstein-Barr virus infections in T-cell-immunocompromised individuals.


The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) carrier state is characterized by latent infection of the general B-cell pool and by chronic virus replication at oropharyngeal sites. In Caucasian populations, most healthy carriers seem to harbor one dominant transforming virus strain, usually of type I rather than type 2, which persists over time and is detectable both in the blood and in the throat. This finding implies that once the virus carrier state is established, both viral reservoirs are largely if not completely protected from infection with additional strains. However, it is not known which facets of the immune response offer that protection. Here we address this question by a detailed study of EBV carriage in patients T-cell immunocompromised as a result of chronic human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Resident EBV strains were rescued from blood and from throat washings by using an in vitro transformation assay which aims to minimize bias toward faster-growing transformants; in this way, a mean of 16 independent isolations were made from each of 35 HIV-positive (predominantly male homosexual) patients. These virus isolates were characterized first at the DNA level by PCR amplification across type-specific polymorphisms in the EBNA2 and EBNA3C genes and across the 30-bp deletion and 33-bp repeat loci in the LMP1 gene and then at the protein level by immunoblotting for the strain-specific "EBNAprint" of EBNA1, -2, and -3C molecular weights. By these criteria, 18 of 35 patients harbored only one detectable EBV strain, usually of type 1, as do healthy carriers. However, the other 17 patients showed clear evidence of multiple infection with different EBV strains. In eight cases these strains were of the same type, again usually type 1, and were more often found coresident in throat washings than in the blood. By contrast, a further nine patients gave evidence of coinfection with type 1 and type 2 strains, and in these cases both virus types were detectable in the blood as well as in the throat. Immunological assays on these HIV-positive patients as a group showed a marked impairment of T-cell responses, reflected in reduced levels of EBV-specific cytotoxic T-cell memory, but an elevation of humoral responses, reflected in raised antibody titers to the EBV envelope glycoprotein gp340 and by the maintenance of virus neutralizing antibodies in serum. We infer that selective impairment of the T-cell system predisposes the host to infection with additional exogenously transmitted EBV strains.

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Selected References

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