The role of Epstein-Barr virus in cancer

Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2006 Nov;6(11):1193-205. doi: 10.1517/14712598.6.11.1193.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), discovered > 40 years ago from a Burkitt's lymphoma biopsy, was the first virus to be directly associated with human cancer. EBV has two distinct life cycles in the human host; a lytic form of infection that produces new infectious virions, and a latent form of infection that allows the virus to persist in a dormant state for the lifetime of the host. EBV has evolved a life cycle that mimics the natural differentiation pathway of antigen-activated B cells, giving the virus access to its site of latent infection, the resting memory B cell. By steering infected cells through the various stages of lymphocyte differentiation, EBV is able to enter a cell type suitable for long-term latent persistence and periodic reactivation. However, its presence in various stages of B-cell development, and its ability to infect certain epithelial cells, can have pathogenic consequences, and can contribute to the development of a diverse group of lymphomas and carcinomas. The presence of EBV in the tumour cells of EBV-associated cancers might provide a basis for specific therapy. This article focuses on the contributions that the virus may play in different types of human cancer, particularly Burkitt's lymphoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, lymphomas and lymphoproliferative diseases in the immunocompromised, and nasopharyngeal and gastric carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Active / methods
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / virology*