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Expert Rev Mol Med. 2001 Nov 15;3(28):1-20.

Epstein-Barr virus infection: basis of malignancy and potential for therapy.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Division of Cancer Studies, Medical School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK. P.G.Murray@bham.ac.uk


The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a human herpesvirus that is usually carried lifelong as an asymptomatic infection. EBV is the causative agent of infectious mononucleosis and has been linked to the development of several malignant tumours, including B-cell neoplasms such as Burkitt's lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease, certain forms of T-cell lymphoma, and some epithelial tumours, such as undifferentiated nasopharyngeal carcinoma and a proportion of gastric cancers. All these tumours are characterised by the presence of multiple extrachromosomal copies of the circular viral genome in the tumour cells and the expression of EBV-encoded latent genes, which appear to contribute to the malignant phenotype. An increasing understanding of the function of EBV latent genes and of the nature of the immune response to the virus is providing exciting new possibilities for the treatment of EBV-associated malignancies. For example, adoptive transfer of virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes has already been of value in the treatment of EBV-positive B-cell lymphomas arising in post-transplant patients, and this approach is currently being investigated in other EBV-associated tumours. In addition, gene therapy offers the opportunity to deliver agents that might directly interfere with the function of specific EBV genes. This review summarises the role of EBV in malignancy. In particular, it focuses on the latent proteins as a basis for understanding how EBV might contribute to the process of transformation. Strategies to target EBV in tumours, potentially providing alternative therapeutic approaches, are also discussed.

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