Systemic lupus erythematosus in adults is associated with previous Epstein-Barr virus exposure

Arthritis Rheum. 2001 May;44(5):1122-6. doi: 10.1002/1529-0131(200105)44:5<1122::AID-ANR193>3.0.CO;2-D.


Objective: The possible molecular mimicry of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) peptide PPPGRRP by the peptide PPPGMRPP from Sm B'/B of the human spliceosome is consistent with the possibility that EBV infection is related to the origin of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in some patients. Association of EBV exposure with SLE was therefore tested for and subsequently found in children and adolescents (odds ratio [OR] 49.9, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 9.3-1,025, P < 10(-11)). These results were confirmed at the level of EBV DNA (OR > 10, 95% CI 2.53-infinity, P < 0.002). Much smaller seroconversion rate differences were found against 4 other herpes viruses. Herein, we extend these studies to adults and test the hypothesis that EBV infection is associated with adult SLE.

Methods: We selected 196 antinuclear antibody-positive adult SLE patients (age > or =20 years) and 2 age-, race-, and sex-matched controls per patient. SLE patients and matched controls were tested for evidence of previous infection with EBV, cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2), or varicella-zoster virus (VZV) by standardized enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.

Results: Of the 196 lupus patients tested, all but 1 had been exposed to EBV, while 22 of the 392 controls did not have antibodies consistent with previous EBV exposure (OR 9.35, 95% CI 1.45-infinity, P = 0.014). No differences were observed between SLE patients and controls in the seroconversion rate against CMV, HSV-2, or VZV.

Conclusion: These new data from adults, along with the many suggestive features of EBV infection, are consistent with the contribution of this infection to the etiology of SLE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Capsid / immunology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / immunology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology
  • Female
  • Herpes Simplex / epidemiology
  • Herpes Simplex / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / virology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies


  • Antibodies, Viral