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Cancer Res. 2004 Mar 15;64(6):2167-74.

Epstein-Barr virus infection of human natural killer cell lines and peripheral blood natural killer cells.

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  • 1Division of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Juntendo University School of Medicine, 2-1-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8421, Japan.


Although considerable part of natural killer (NK) cell neoplasms possess EBV genome, there has been no direct evidence that EBV infects human NK cells in vitro. In this study, we demonstrated EBV entry into NK cells using a recombinant EBV, which contains enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) gene in its genome (EGFP-EBV). After 48 h of exposure to EGFP-EBV, we detected EGFP signals in approximately 30% of NK-92 and NKL cells and >40% of peripheral blood NK cells from three healthy volunteers. Reverse transcription-PCR analysis of various EBV-associated genes confirmed EBV infection. In situ hybridization for EBERs and BHLFs showed that latent and lytic infections coexisted at the early phase of EBV infection in two NK cell lines. Although BHLF-positive cells in the early lytic phase were round-shaped, EBER-positive cells in latent EBV infection tended to show a bizarre shape. Flow cytometric analysis of EGFP-EBV-exposed NK cell lines showed that most of EBV-infected cells entered early apoptosis after 72 h of EBV exposure, which explains the difficulties to establish EBV-carrying NK clones. Flow cytometry and reverse transcription-PCR analysis indicated that two NK cell lines may fuse with EBV using HLA class II after binding to the virus through a distinct molecule from CD21. We established two EBV-carrying NKL clones showing latency types I and II, both of which are recognized in EBV-associated NK cell neoplasms. Because EBV-infected NKL cells showed only type I latency during the early phase of infection, the temporal profile of latent gene expression is similar to that of T cells. We first report in vitro EBV infection of human NK cells and establishment of EBV-carrying NK clones, which should contribute to elucidate the role of EBV in the development of NK cell neoplasms.

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