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Curr Opin Oncol. 2001 Sep;13(5):360-7.

Induction of the Epstein-Barr virus thymidine kinase gene with concomitant nucleoside antivirals as a therapeutic strategy for Epstein-Barr virus-associated malignancies.

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Cancer Research Center and Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.


Lymphoproliferative diseases (LPDs) associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) include non-Hodgkin lymphomas, which occur in the setting of immunosuppression, including that induced by human immunodeficiency virus, and posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorders. These LPDs are characterized by actively proliferating, latently infected EBV-positive B lymphocytes and often follow a rapidly progressive fatal clinical course. Pharmacologic treatment for herpesvirus infections has targeted the virus-specific enzyme, thymidine kinase (TK), with nucleoside analogs. The lack of viral TK expression in EBV-positive tumors, caused by viral latency, however, makes antiviral therapy alone ineffective as an antineoplastic therapy. Arginine butyrate selectively activates the EBV TK gene in latently infected EBV-positive tumor cells. We have developed a strategy for treatment of EBV-associated lymphomas using pharmacologic induction of the latent viral TK gene and enzyme in tumor cells using arginine butyrate, followed by treatment with ganciclovir. A phase I/II trial, using an intrapatient dose escalation of arginine butyrate combined with ganciclovir, is underway. This combination therapy has produced complete clinical responses in 5 of 10 previously refractory patients, with partial responses occurring in 2 additional patients. This virus-targeted antitumor strategy may provide a new therapeutic approach to EBV-associated neoplasms.

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