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J Virol. 2012 Jan;86(1):572-7. doi: 10.1128/JVI.05151-11. Epub 2011 Oct 19.

Epstein-Barr virus isolates retain their capacity to evade T cell immunity through BNLF2a despite extensive sequence variation.

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  • 1Department of Medical Microbiology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-encoded immune evasion protein BNLF2a inhibits the transporter associated with antigen processing (TAP), thereby downregulating HLA class I expression at the cell surface. As a consequence, recognition of EBV-infected cells by cytotoxic T cells is impaired. Here, we show that sequence polymorphism of the BNLF2a protein is observed with natural EBV isolates, with evidence for positive selection. Despite these mutations, the BNLF2a variants efficiently reduce cell surface HLA class I levels. This conservation of BNLF2a function during evolution of EBV implies an important role for the viral TAP inhibitor in preventing T cell recognition during viral infection.

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