Immune Evasion by Epstein-Barr Virus

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2015;391:355-81. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-22834-1_12.


Epstein-Bar virus (EBV) is widespread within the human population with over 90% of adults being infected. In response to primary EBV infection, the host mounts an antiviral immune response comprising both innate and adaptive effector functions. Although the immune system can control EBV infection to a large extent, the virus is not cleared. Instead, EBV establishes a latent infection in B lymphocytes characterized by limited viral gene expression. For the production of new viral progeny, EBV reactivates from these latently infected cells. During the productive phase of infection, a repertoire of over 80 EBV gene products is expressed, presenting a vast number of viral antigens to the primed immune system. In particular the EBV-specific CD4+ and CD8+ memory T lymphocytes can respond within hours, potentially destroying the virus-producing cells before viral replication is completed and viral particles have been released. Preceding the adaptive immune response, potent innate immune mechanisms provide a first line of defense during primary and recurrent infections. In spite of this broad range of antiviral immune effector mechanisms, EBV persists for life and continues to replicate. Studies performed over the past decades have revealed a wide array of viral gene products interfering with both innate and adaptive immunity. These include EBV-encoded proteins as well as small noncoding RNAs with immune-evasive properties. The current review presents an overview of the evasion strategies that are employed by EBV to facilitate immune escape during latency and productive infection. These evasion mechanisms may also compromise the elimination of EBV-transformed cells, and thus contribute to malignancies associated with EBV infection.

Keywords: Adaptive immunity; Epstein‐Barr virus; Immune evasion; Innate immunity; Viral immune escape.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigens / genetics
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigens / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion*


  • Epstein-Barr Virus Nuclear Antigens