Hairy leukoplakia; lessons learned: 30-plus years

Oral Dis. 2016 Apr:22 Suppl 1:120-7. doi: 10.1111/odi.12393.


Well into the fourth decade of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we can look back on the early years, the initial discoveries, and the broad sweep of the progress of our understanding of the nature, causes, and significance of the oral lesions seen in those infected with the virus. Prominent among these is oral hairy leukoplakia (HL), a previously unknown lesion of the mouth associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and initially seen only in people with AIDS, in the then-recognized risk groups, or those shown to be HIV positive. Subsequently, it became clear that the distribution of HL extends well beyond the HIV spectrum. In this brief review, we consider the clinical and histological features of HL, discuss how it was discovered, explore its cause, diagnosis, relationship with AIDS, pathogenesis, significance in EBV biology, options for management, and how it changes with HIV/AIDS therapy.

Keywords: Epstein-Barr virus; HIV/AIDS; hairy leukoplakia; oral lesions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / drug therapy
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / immunology*
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / pathology*
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / virology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Leukoplakia, Hairy / diagnosis
  • Leukoplakia, Hairy / immunology*
  • Leukoplakia, Hairy / pathology*
  • Leukoplakia, Hairy / virology