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Dis Colon Rectum. 2013 Mar;56(3):322-7. doi: 10.1097/DCR.0b013e31827cd02c.

Inflammatory bowel disease exacerbation associated with Epstein-Barr virus infection.

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  • 1Unit of Virology, Department of Microbiology, Medical School, University of Athens, Athens, Greece.



Epstein-Barr virus infection is associated with inflammatory bowel disease, but its role as a pathogenetic or exacerbating factor remains unclear.


The aim of this study was to evaluate the association between Epstein-Barr virus infection and inflammatory bowel disease, particularly in regard to exacerbation of disease activity.


This was a nonrandomized crosssectional study in subgroups of patients with inflammatory bowel disease compared with a control group with noninflammatory disease.


Participants were patients treated for ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease and individuals undergoing evaluation for noninflammatory disease recruited from 2 urban adult gastrointestinal referral centers in Greece.


Diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease was based on standard clinical and endoscopic criteria. Demographic and clinical characteristics of all participants were recorded. Whole blood samples and fresh tissue samples from biopsy of intestinal sites were obtained from each participant. The presence of Epstein-Barr virus was determined by amplifying the LMP1 gene of the virus in blood and intestinal tissue samples.


The study comprised 94 patients with inflammatory bowel disease (63 with ulcerative colitis and 31 with Crohn's disease) and 45 controls with noninflammatory disease. Of the 94 patients, 67 (71.3%) had disease exacerbation and 27 (28.7%) were in remission. The prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus genome was significantly higher in patients than in controls for intestinal tissue (44 patients, 46.8% vs 6 controls, 13.3%; p = 0.001), but not for whole blood (24 patients, 25.5% vs 9 controls, 20%; p = 0.3). The viral genome was found significantly more frequently in intestinal samples from patients with disease exacerbation compared with patients in remission (38 patients with exacerbation, 56.7% vs 6 patients in remission, 22.2%; p = 0.001), but no significant difference was found for whole blood (18 patients with exacerbation, 26.8% vs 6 patients in remission, 22.2%; p = 0.79). Neither disease exacerbation nor the presence of virus genome was related to demographic or clinical characteristics.


The exact location of Epstein-Barr virus in the intestinal tissues could not be specified because morphological data by immunohistochemistry or in situ hybridization were not available.


Although causality could not be determined, the significantly higher prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus in intestinal tissue from patients with inflammatory bowel disease compared with controls and in patients with exacerbation compared with patients in remission suggests a potential viral involvement in the severity of inflammatory bowel disease. These findings merit further investigation in view of a potential for usefulness of antiviral therapy against Epstein-Barr virus infection in patients with exacerbation of inflammatory bowel disease.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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