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Role of Epstein-Barr virus in Burkitt's lymphoma.

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Department of Tumor Virology, Institute for Genetic Medicine, Hokkaido University, N15 W7, Kita-ku, Sapporo 060-8638, Japan.


We established an in vitro system representing BL-type EBV infection, which is characterized by expression of EBNA1, EBER, BARF0, and LMP2A, and absence of EBNA2 and LMP1 expression (Shimizu et al. 1994; Komano et al. 1998). Comparison of EBV-positive and -negative Akata cell clones revealed that EBV contributes to the malignant phenotype and resistance to apoptosis. This is clear evidence that EBV is not a passenger and plays a role in BL. Moreover, we found that EBERs are responsible for these phenotypes (Komano et al. 1999). In the transfection study, EBER-expressing Akata cell clones restored the malignant phenotype, resistance to apoptosis and upregulated expression of bcl-2 protein to a level comparable to the restoration rate of EBER expression compared with EBV-reinfected cell clones. Many RNAs are known to have catalytic functions; however, there has been no report describing an oncogenic RNA. This is the first paper that provides evidence that RNA polymerase III-transcribed virus-encoded small RNAs affect the malignant phenotype and resistance to apoptosis. Like Akata cells (Takada et al. 1991), all the BL cells possess a chromosomal translocation involving the c-myc locus, which results in constitutive activation of the c-myc gene (Klein 1981). In mammalian cells, deregulated expression of c-myc has been shown to contribute not only to tumorigenesis (Land et al. 1983) but also to induce apoptosis (Askew et al. 1991; Evan et al. 1992; Milner et al. 1993). Therefore, BL cells are predisposed to c-myc-induced apoptosis. Our data imply that EBV infection would upregulate expression of bcl-2 protein to protect cells from c-myc-induced apoptosis, and to allow c-myc to exert its oncogenic functions (Vaux et al. 1988; Brito-Babapulle et al. 1991; Bissonnette et al. 1992; Fanidi et al. 1992; Karsan et al. 1993; Mohammad et al. 1993; Oltvai et al. 1993; Marin et al. 1995). In this way bcl-2 might cooperate with c-myc in the development of BL (Fig. 5).

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