Epstein-Barr Virus Type 2 Infects T Cells and Induces B Cell Lymphomagenesis in Humanized Mice

J Virol. 2018 Oct 12;92(21):e00813-18. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00813-18. Print 2018 Nov 1.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been classified into two strains, EBV type 1 (EBV-1) and EBV type 2 (EBV-2) based on genetic variances and differences in transforming capacity. EBV-1 readily transforms B cells in culture while EBV-2 is poorly transforming. The differing abilities to immortalize B cells in vitro suggest that in vivo these viruses likely use alternative approaches to establish latency. Indeed, we recently reported that EBV-2 has a unique cell tropism for T cells, infecting T cells in culture and in healthy Kenyan infants, strongly suggesting that EBV-2 infection of T cells is a natural part of the EBV-2 life cycle. However, limitations of human studies hamper further investigation into how EBV-2 utilizes T cells. Therefore, BALB/c Rag2null IL2rγnull SIRPα humanized mice were utilized to develop an EBV-2 in vivo model. Infection of humanized mice with EBV-2 led to infection of both T and B cells, unlike infection with EBV-1, in which only B cells were infected. Gene expression analysis demonstrated that EBV-2 established a latency III infection with evidence of ongoing viral reactivation in both B and T cells. Importantly, EBV-2-infected mice developed tumors resembling diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL). These lymphomas had morphological features comparable to those of EBV-1-induced DLBCLs, developed at similar rates with equivalent frequencies, and expressed a latency III gene profile. Thus, despite the impaired ability of EBV-2 to immortalize B cells in vitro, EBV-2 efficiently induces lymphomagenesis in humanized mice. Further research utilizing this model will enhance our understanding of EBV-2 biology, the consequence of EBV infection of T cells, and the capacity of EBV-2 to drive lymphomagenesis.IMPORTANCE EBV is a well-established B cell-tropic virus. However, we have recently shown that the EBV type 2 (EBV-2) strain also infects primary T cells in culture and in healthy Kenyan children. This finding suggests that EBV-2, unlike the well-studied EBV-1 strain, utilizes the T cell compartment to persist. As EBV is human specific, studies to understand the role of T cells in EBV-2 persistence require an in vivo model. Thus, we developed an EBV-2 humanized mouse model, utilizing immunodeficient mice engrafted with human cord blood CD34+ stem cells. Characterization of the EBV-2-infected humanized mice established that both T cells and B cells are infected by EBV-2 and that the majority of infected mice develop a B cell lymphoma resembling diffuse large B cell lymphoma. This new in vivo model can be utilized for studies to enhance our understanding of how EBV-2 infection of T cells contributes to persistence and lymphomagenesis.

Keywords: B cell lymphoma; B lymphocytes; Epstein-Barr virus; T lymphocytes; humanized mouse model.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • B-Lymphocytes / virology*
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / pathology*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / classification
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / virology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Knockout
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes / virology*
  • Viral Tropism / physiology
  • Virus Activation / genetics
  • Virus Latency / genetics