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J Clin Microbiol. 2004 Dec;42(12):5802-10.

Surface immunoglobulin-deficient Epstein-Barr virus-infected B cells in the peripheral blood of pediatric solid-organ transplant recipients.

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  • 1Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Graduate School of Public Health, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a ubiquitous human herpesvirus, normally causes an asymptomatic latent infection with very low levels of circulating virus in the peripheral blood of infected individuals. However, EBV does have pathogenic potential and has been linked to several diseases, including posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD), which involves very high circulating viral loads. As a consequence of immunosuppression associated with transplantation, children in particular are at risk for PTLD. Even in the absence of symptoms of PTLD, very high viral loads are often observed in these patients. EBV-infected B cells in the circulations of 16 asymptomatic pediatric solid-organ transplant recipients from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh were simultaneously characterized for their surface immunoglobulin (sIg) isotypes and EBV genome copy numbers. Patients were characterized as having high and low viral loads on the basis of their stable levels of circulating virus. Patients with high viral loads had both high- and low-copy-number cells. Cells with a high numbers of viral episomes (>20/cell) were predominantly Ig null, and cells with low numbers of episomes were predominantly sIgM positive. Patients with low viral loads carried the vast majority of their viral load in low-copy-number cells, which were predominantly IgM positive. The very rare high-copy-number cells detected in carriers with low viral loads were also predominantly Ig-null cells. This suggests that two distinct types of B-lineage cells contribute to the viral load in transplant recipients, with cells bearing high genome copy numbers having an aberrant Ig-null cellular phenotype.

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