Immunological aspects of Epstein-Barr virus infection

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2002 Dec;44(3):203-15. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(02)00112-9.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a member of ubiquitous gamma herpes viruses, which primarily induces acute infectious mononucleosis (IM) or subclinical infection in susceptible subjects. The host reactions account for the clinical manifestation of IM. This virus also contributes to the development of lymphoid or epithelial malignancies. The outgrowth of EBV-infected B-cells is first controlled by interferon (IFN)-gamma and natural killer (NK) cells, and later by EBV-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL). To overcome the host responses and establish the persistent infection, EBV conducts the protean strategies of immune evasion. Several EBV genes modulate apoptotic signals and cytokine balances to persist B-cell infection without insulting the host. Uncontrolled lymphoproliferation occurs as EBV(+) B-cell lymphoproliferative disease (LPD)/lymphoma in AIDS, posttransplant, or primary immunodeficiency diseases (PID). On the other hand, EBV(+) T/NK cells are involved in EBV-associated hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (EBV-HLH) or chronic active EBV infection (CAEBV) in children having no underlying immunodeficiencies, and at times lead to the clonal evolution of T/NK-cell LPD/lymphomas. Recent advance in molecular techniques has enabled us to analyze the clonality of EBV-infected lymphocytes and to quantify the gene expression of EBV and cytokines. Dominant autocrine loop of T helper (Th) 2 and Th1 may exert in EBV(+) B-LPD and T-LPD, respectively. Intensive studies on the immunological interface between effector components and EBV(+) target cells will provide more information on clarifying the pathogenesis of EBV-associated lymphoid malignancies, as well as on exploiting the therapeutic and preventive strategies for the formidable EBV-associated disease in childhood.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology*
  • Humans