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J Virol. 2000 Mar;74(6):2612-9.

Infection of primary human monocytes by Epstein-Barr virus.

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Laboratory of Viral Immunology, Centre de Recherche en Rhumatologie et Immunologie, Centre de Recherche du CHUL, Université Laval, Sainte-Foy, Québec, Canada.


Previous studies have reported that infection of monocytes by viruses such as cytomegalovirus and human immunodeficiency virus weakens host natural immunity. In the present study, we demonstrated the capability of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) to infect and replicate in freshly isolated human monocytes. Using electron microscopy analysis, we observed the presence of EBV virions in the cytoplasm and nuclei of approximately 20% of monocytes. This was confirmed by Southern blot analysis of EBV genomic DNA sequences in isolated nuclei from monocytes. Infection of monocytes by EBV leads to the activation of the replicative cycle. This was supported by the detection of immediate-early lytic mRNA BZLF-1 transcripts, and by the presence of two early lytic transcripts (BALF-2, which appears to function in DNA replication, and BHRF-1, also associated with the replicative cycle). The late lytic BcLF-1 transcripts, which code for the major nucleocapsid protein, were also detected, as well as EBNA-1 transcripts. However, attempts to detect EBNA-2 transcripts have yielded negative results. Viral replication was also confirmed by the release of newly synthesized infectious viral particles in supernatants of EBV-infected monocytes. EBV-infected monocytes were found to have significantly reduced phagocytic activity, as evaluated by the quantification of ingested carboxylated fluoresceinated latex beads. Taken together, our results suggest that EBV infection of monocytes and alteration of their biological functions might represent a new mechanism to disrupt the immune response and promote viral propagation during the early stages of infection.

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