Epstein-Barr virus transactivates the human endogenous retrovirus HERV-K18 that encodes a superantigen

Immunity. 2001 Oct;15(4):579-89. doi: 10.1016/s1074-7613(01)00210-2.


Superantigens (SAgs) are proteins produced by pathogenic microbes to elicit potent, antigen-independent T cell responses that are believed to enhance the microbes' pathogenicity. Here we show that the human lymphotropic herpesvirus Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) transcriptionally activates the env gene of an endogenous retrovirus, HERV-K18, that possesses SAg activity. SAg activity was demonstrated by MHC class II dependent preferential activation of TCRVB13 T cells in response to murine B cells transfected with the HERV-K18 env gene. This is a unique demonstration of a pathogen inducing a host-encoded Sag and accounts for the previously described EBV associated Sag activity. The T cell activation elicited by the Sag could play a central role in EBV infection and associated diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / immunology
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / genetics
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / immunology
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / genetics*
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / immunology*
  • Endogenous Retroviruses / metabolism
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / genetics*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Gene Products, env / biosynthesis
  • Gene Products, env / genetics
  • Gene Products, env / immunology*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • RNA, Viral / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / immunology
  • Superantigens / biosynthesis
  • Superantigens / genetics*
  • Superantigens / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Gene Products, env
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • RNA, Viral
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Superantigens