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J Virol. 1998 Nov;72(11):9016-24.

Functional differences between BHRF1, the Epstein-Barr virus-encoded Bcl-2 homologue, and Bcl-2 in human epithelial cells.

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CRC Institute for Cancer Studies, University of Birmingham Medical School, Birmingham B15 2TA, United Kingdom.


BHRF1, a component of the restricted early antigen complex of the Epstein-Barr virus lytic cycle, encodes a 17-kDa protein with both sequence and functional homology to the antiapoptotic Bcl-2 oncogene. Recent work has suggested that BHRF1 behaves like Bcl-2 in protecting cells from apoptosis induced by a range of stimuli. In this study, the effect of BHRF1 and Bcl-2 on the growth and differentiation of the SCC12F human epithelial cell line was examined. The levels of stable transfected BHRF1 expression achievable in SCC12F cells was consistently lower than that obtained with Bcl-2. While both BHRF1 and Bcl-2 inhibited epithelial differentiation, the effect of Bcl-2 was more pronounced, resulting in an almost complete blockade of differentiation in organotypic raft cultures. However, BHRF1-expressing SCC12F cells proliferated at a much higher rate than SCC12F cells expressing Bcl-2, and this effect was supported by cell cycle analysis which demonstrated that BHRF1, but not Bcl-2, promotes rapid transit through the cell cycle. These data highlight important differences between BHRF1 and Bcl-2 and suggest that BHRF1 may function to promote the survival and proliferation of lytically infected cells. The proliferative properties of BHRF1 described in this study, together with the demonstration that other oncogenic gamma herpesviruses encode Bcl-2 homologues, suggests that these proteins may serve to increase the susceptibility of virus-infected cells to oncogenic transformation, thereby contributing to the development of virus-associated tumors.

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