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Oncogene. 1995 Jan 5;10(1):69-77.

BHRF1, a viral homologue of the Bcl-2 oncogene, disturbs epithelial cell differentiation.

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Institute for Cancer Studies, University of Birmingham Medical School, UK.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with tumours of both lymphoid and epithelial origin. Whilst a role for EBV latent genes in the development of these malignancies is accepted, it is also possible that viral proteins involved in EBV replication may influence the oncogenic process. BHRF1 is an immediate early protein which has homology with the Bcl-2 oncogene and can protect B cells from apoptosis. In vivo this protein is most abundantly expressed in the upper layers of oral 'hairy' leukoplakia (HL), a benign hyperparakeratotic tongue lesion which represents a focus EBV replication. We have transfected BHRF1 into the human squamous cell carcinoma line SCC12F which retains several features of normal keratinocytes behaviour in vitro. BHRF1 expression in these epithelial cells is associated with a delay in the commitment of cells to terminal differentiation, increased resistance to the DNA damaging drug, cis-platin and enhanced survival under conditions of serum deprivation. As the differentiation of epithelial cells is an apoptotic process, this data strongly suggests that BHRF1 expression delays the terminal differentiation of epithelial cells through the prevention of apoptosis. This effect of BHRF1, which may normally function to promote productive EBV infection, could contribute to the development of EBV-associated tumours.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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