Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a well-characterised B-lymphotropic agent is aetiologically linked to B cell lymphoproliferations, but the spectrum of diseases the virus causes also includes oral hairy leukoplakia, a benign epithelial lesion, as well as carcinomas of the nasopharynx and of the stomach. However, it is still unclear how EBV accesses and transforms primary epithelial cells. Sixteen samples consisting of primary epithelial cells from the sphenoidal sinus or from tonsils were infected with GFP-tagged recombinant B95.8 EBVs produced in the 293 cell line. The rate of infection was assessed by counting GFP-positive cells and cells expressing viral proteins. Primary epithelial cells from all samples were found to be sensitive to EBV infection but there was a marked interindividual variation among the tested samples (2-48% positive cells). This suggests heterogeneity in terms of sensitivity to EBV infection in vivo and therefore possibly to EBV-associated diseases of the epithelium. The virus showed a preferential tropism for differentiated epithelial cells (p63 negative, involucrin positive). In all cases, infected cells expressed EBV lytic proteins but also the LMP1 protein. The viral tropism for differentiated cells and the permissivity of these cells for virus replication reproduced in vitro cardinal features of oral hairy leukoplakia. We have identified a source of EBV that shows unusually strong epitheliotropism for primary epithelial cells that will allow detailed analysis of virus-cell interactions during virus infection, replication and virus-mediated transformation.
Copyright (c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.