EBV miRNAs are potent effectors of tumor cell transcriptome remodeling in promoting immune escape

PLoS Pathog. 2021 May 6;17(5):e1009217. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009217. eCollection 2021 May.


The Epstein Barr virus (EBV) contributes to the tumor phenotype through a limited set of primarily non-coding viral RNAs, including 31 mature miRNAs. Here we investigated the impact of EBV miRNAs on remodeling the tumor cell transcriptome. Strikingly, EBV miRNAs displayed exceptionally abundant expression in primary EBV-associated Burkitt's Lymphomas (BLs) and Gastric Carcinomas (GCs). To investigate viral miRNA targeting, we used the high-resolution approach, CLASH in GC and BL cell models. Affinity constant calculations of targeting efficacies for CLASH hits showed that viral miRNAs bind their targets more effectively than their host counterparts, as did Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68) miRNAs. Using public BL and GC RNA-seq datasets, we found that high EBV miRNA targeting efficacies translates to enhanced reduction of target expression. Pathway analysis of high efficacy EBV miRNA targets showed enrichment for innate and adaptive immune responses. Inhibition of the immune response by EBV miRNAs was functionally validated in vivo through the finding of inverse correlations between EBV miRNAs and immune cell infiltration and T-cell diversity in BL and GC datasets. Together, this study demonstrates that EBV miRNAs are potent effectors of the tumor transcriptome that play a role in suppressing host immune response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / immunology*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / metabolism
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / pathology
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Viral*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics*
  • RNA-Induced Silencing Complex / genetics
  • RNA-Induced Silencing Complex / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome*


  • MicroRNAs
  • RNA, Viral
  • RNA-Induced Silencing Complex