Objective: To investigate the presence of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovium and its correlation with the HLA genotype in an attempt to elucidate the role of EBV in the pathogenesis of RA.
Methods: EBV DNA/RNA was investigated by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of synovial tissue from 84 patients with RA and from 81 patients with non-RA arthritis (controls) and was correlated with the patients' HLA genotype.
Results: EBV DNA and EBV-encoded RNA 1 transcripts were significantly more frequently present in synovial tissue from the RA patients (29 of 84) than in that from the non-RA patient controls (8 of 81). EBV DNA-positive individuals had a 5.47 times higher risk of presenting with RA than did EBV DNA-negative individuals. In HLA-DRB1*0401,0404,0405,0408-positive or shared epitope-positive patients, the risk was further increased (odds ratio for EBV and HLA-DR4 approximately 41, for EBV and the shared epitope approximately 15) compared with those who lacked both EBV DNA and RA-linked HLA genotypes.
Conclusion: EBV seems to function as an environmental risk factor for RA, particularly in patients with the RA-linked HLA-DRB1 alleles.