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Nat Rev Cancer. 2004 Oct;4(10):757-68.

Epstein-Barr virus: 40 years on.

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  • 1Cancer Research UK Institute for Cancer Studies, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was discovered 40 years ago from examining electron micrographs of cells cultured from Burkitt's lymphoma, a childhood tumour that is common in sub-Saharan Africa, where its unusual geographical distribution - which matches that of holoendemic malaria -indicated a viral aetiology. However, far from showing a restricted distribution, EBV - a gamma-herpesvirus - was found to be widespread in all human populations and to persist in the vast majority of individuals as a lifelong, asymptomatic infection of the B-lymphocyte pool. Despite such ubiquity, the link between EBV and 'endemic' Burkitt's lymphoma proved consistent and became the first of an unexpectedly wide range of associations discovered between this virus and tumours.

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