The Epigenetic Life Cycle of Epstein-Barr Virus

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2015;390(Pt 1):103-17. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-22822-8_6.


Ever since the discovery of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) more than 50 years ago, this virus has been studied for its capacity to readily establish a latent infection, which is the prominent hallmark of this member of the herpesvirus family. EBV has become an important model for many aspects of herpesviral latency, but the molecular steps and mechanisms that lead to and promote viral latency have only emerged recently. It now appears that the virus exploits diverse facets of epigenetic gene regulation in the cellular host to establish a latent infection. Most viral genes are transcriptionally repressed, and viral chromatin is densely compacted during EBV's latent phase, but latent infection is not a dead end. In order to escape from this phase, epigenetic silencing must be reverted efficiently and quickly. It appears that EBV has perfected a clever strategy to overcome transcriptional repression of its many lytic genes to initiate virus de novo synthesis within a few hours after induction of its lytic cycle. This review tries to summarize the known molecular mechanisms, the current models, concepts, and ideas underlying this viral strategy. This review also attempts to identify and address gaps in our current understanding of EBV's epigenetic mechanisms within the infected cellular host.

Keywords: DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Pioneer factor; Reprogramming; Transcription.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral
  • Genome, Viral
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Virus Replication*