Epstein-Barr virus, EBV, and humans have a common history that reaches back to our primate ancestors. The virus co-evolved with man and has established a largely harmless and highly complex co-existence. It is carried as silent infection by almost all human adults. A serendipitous discovery established that it is the causative agent of infectious mononucleosis. Still, EBV became known first in 1964, in a rare, geographically prevalent malignant lymphoma of B-cell origin, Burkitt lymphoma BL. Its association with a malignancy prompted intensive studies and its capacity to immortalize B-lymphocytes in vitro was soon demonstrated. Consequently EBV was classified therefore as a potentially tumorigenic virus. Despite of this property however, the virus carrier state itself does not lead to malignancies because the transformed cells are recognized by the immune response. Consequently the EBV induced proliferation of EBV carrying B-lymphocytes is manifested only under immunosuppressive conditions. The expression of EBV encoded genes is regulated by the cell phenotype. The virus genome can be found in malignancies originating from cell types other than the B-lymphocyte. Even in the EBV infected B-cell, the direct transforming capacity is restricted to a defined window of differentiation. A complex interaction between virally encoded proteins and B-cell specific cellular proteins constitute the proliferation inducing program. In this short review we touch upon aspects which are the subject of our present work. We describe the mechanisms of some of the functional interactions between EBV encoded and cellular proteins that determine the phenotype of latently infected B-cells. The growth promoting EBV encoded genes are not expressed in the virus carrying BL cells. Still, EBV seems to contribute to the etiology of this tumor by modifying events that influence cell survival and proliferation. We describe a possible growth promoting mechanism in the genesis of Burkitt lymphoma that depends on the presence of EBV.
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