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Semin Cancer Biol. 1992 Oct;3(5):285-95.

Epstein-Barr virus and Burkitt's lymphoma.

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Lymphoma Biology Section, Pediatric Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD.


Recent investigations indicate that Burkitt's lymphoma consists of several subtypes, defined by their clinical and molecular features. Each geographical region so far studied appears to consist of a different mixture of subtypes. Interestingly, there appear to be geographic 'gradients' with respect to the fraction of tumors associated with EBV and the type of 8;14 chromosomal translocation. The rate of EBV association is highest in Equatorial Africa, lowest in North America and intermediate in South America. The fraction of tumors with breakpoints far upstream of the c-myc gene follows a similar pattern. These findings strongly suggest that the subtypes of Burkitt's lymphoma are environmentally determined, and we propose that the pattern of infection (e.g. malaria) to which the young child is exposed influences the tumor subtype distribution by altering the relative and absolute numbers of various B cell precursors at sites of B cell ontogeny (the bone marrow, and possibly mesentery). These B cell precursors are the cells which are susceptible to the specific chromosomal translocations associated with Burkitt's lymphoma. We further propose that immunoglobulin enhancers (recognized and unrecognized) both influence the likelihood of the translocation occurring, and in at least a fraction of cases, contribute to the deregulation of a c-myc. EBV, via EBNA-1, the only invariably expressed latent-gene in Burkitt's lymphoma, probably influences c-myc expression in Burkitt's lymphoma by increasing immunoglobulin enhancer function. Thus, in effect, EBV collaborates with the translocations associated with Burkitt's lymphoma in causing c-myc deregulation. This collaboration is independent of the breakpoint location. While other molecular abnormalities must be able to contribute to myc deregulation in the same way, EBV association in Burkitt's lymphoma is probably determined by the age at which EBV infection occurs (being more likely when infection occurs in very young children) and perhaps also by other infectious diseases that numerically influence the fraction, and predominant stage of differentiation (and hence translocation breakpoint sites) of immature B cells infected by EBV. The presence of EBV in many such cells greatly increases the incidence rate of Burkitt's lymphoma, since one of the genetic lesions needed to deregulate c-myc is already present.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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