Epstein-Barr virus and oncogenesis: from latent genes to tumours

Oncogene. 2003 Aug 11;22(33):5108-21. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1206556.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous human herpesvirus associated with the development of both lymphoid and epithelial tumours. As a common virus infection, EBV appears to have evolved to exploit the process of B cell development to persist as a life-long asymptomatic infection. However, the virus can contribute to oncogenesis as evidenced by its frequent detection in certain tumours, namely Burkitt's lymphoma (BL), post-transplant B cell lymphomas, Hodgkin's disease (HD) and nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), and by its unique ability to efficiently transform resting B cells in vitro into permanently growing lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs). These transforming effects are associated with the restricted expression of EBV genes such that only a subset of so-called latent virus proteins are expressed in virus infected tumours and in LCLs. Distinct forms of EBV latency are manifest in the different tumours and these appear to be a vestige of the pattern of latent gene expression used by the virus during the establishment of persistent infection within the B cell pool. This review summarises our current knowledge of EBV latent gene function and how this relates to the role of the virus in the aetiology of different tumours.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burkitt Lymphoma / virology
  • Cell Line, Transformed
  • Genome, Viral
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics*
  • Hodgkin Disease / virology
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / virology
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / virology
  • Neoplasms / virology*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / virology