Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is strongly associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). We reported that suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA) induced EBV lytic cycle in EBV-positive gastric carcinoma cells and mediated enhanced cell death. However, expression of EBV lytic proteins was thought to exert antiapoptotic effect in EBV-infected cells. Here, we examined the in vitro and in vivo effects of SAHA on EBV lytic cycle induction in NPC cells and investigated the cellular consequences. Micromolar concentrations of SAHA significantly induced EBV lytic cycle in EBV-positive NPC cells. Increased apoptosis and proteolytic cleavage of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase and caspase-3, -7 and -9 in EBV-positive versus EBV-negative NPC cells were observed. More than 85% of NPC cells expressing immediate-early (Zta), early (BMRF1) or late (gp350/220) lytic proteins coexpressed cleaved caspase-3. Tracking of expression of EBV lytic proteins and cleaved caspase-3 over time demonstrated that NPC cells proceeded to apoptosis following EBV lytic cycle induction. Inhibition of EBV DNA replication and late lytic protein expression by phosphonoformic acid did not impact on SAHA's induced cell death in NPC, indicating that early rather than late phase of EBV lytic cycle contributed to the apoptotic effect. In vivo effects of SAHA on EBV lytic cycle induction and tumor growth suppression were also observed in NPC xenografts in nude mice. Taken together, our data indicated that activation of lytic cycle from latent cycle of EBV by SAHA leads to apoptosis and tumor growth suppression of NPC thereby providing experimental evidence for virus-targeted therapy against EBV-positive cancer.
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