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J Hepatol. 2006 May;44(5):879-85. Epub 2006 Mar 7.

The role of Epstein-Barr virus in acute and chronic hepatitis.

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  • 1Institute of Pathology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.



Epstein-Barr virus has a seroprevalence of more than 80% world wide and is known to be associated with hepatitis. However, little is known about the underlying pathogenesis and immunmechanisms and no standard diagnostic criteria to diagnose EBV-hepatitis are available.


We collected liver biopsies (n=21) with the tentative diagnosis of EBV induced hepatitis according to pathological changes and traceable EBV genome by PCR. Correlation with serological data revealed acute in seven cases, convalescent in two cases, past EBV infection in six cases. Viral RNA was visualised by in situ hybridisation within nuclei of lymphocytes.


In seven of 68 liver biopsies with the diagnosis 'liver disease of unknown aetiology' EBV genome in the tissue was demonstrated indicating a possible role for EBV in the induction of hepatitis or a trapping of infected lymphocytes within the liver. In a control group of 20 EBV-seropositive patients with steatohepatitis EBV-DNA PCR of the liver tissue was negative. Immunohistochemistry identified CD3 and CD8 positive T-lymphocytes as the main lymphocytic infiltrate in EBV hepatitis.


EBV hepatitis should be taken into consideration in case of typical histopathological changes and a positive DNA PCR of liver biopsy. Serological confirmation of the diagnosis is inevitable.

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