Background: Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) is a rare disease that affects mainly young children, and which features granulomas containing Langerhans-type dendritic cells. The role of several human herpesviruses (HHV) in the pathogenesis of LCH was suggested by numerous reports but remains debated. Epstein-barr virus (EBV, HHV-4), & Cytomegalovirus (CMV, HHV-5) can infect Langerhans cells, and EBV, CMV and HHV-6 have been proposed to be associated with LCH based on the detection of these viruses in clinical samples.
Methodology: We have investigated the prevalence of EBV, CMV and HHV-6 infection, the characters of antibody response and the plasma viral load in a cohort of 83 patients and 236 age-matched controls, and the presence and cellular localization of the viruses in LCH tissue samples from 19 patients.
Principal findings: The results show that prevalence, serological titers, and viral load for EBV, CMV and HHV-6 did not differ between patients and controls. EBV was found by PCR in tumoral sample from 3/19 patients, however, EBV small RNAs EBERs -when positive-, were detected by in situ double staining in bystander B CD20+ CD79a+ lymphocytes and not in CD1a+ LC. HHV-6 genome was detected in the biopsies of 5/19 patients with low copy number and viral Ag could not be detected in biopsies. CMV was not detected by PCR in this series.
Conclusions/significance: Therefore, our findings do not support the hypothesis of a role of EBV, CMV, or HHV-6 in the pathogenesis of LCH, and indicate that the frequent detection of Epstein-barr virus (EBV) in Langerhans cell histiocytosis is accounted for by the infection of bystander B lymphocytes in LCH granuloma. The latter observation can be attributed to the immunosuppressive micro environment found in LCH granuloma.