Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is an oncogenic human herpesvirus infecting approximately 90% of the world's population. The oral cavity serves a central role in the life cycle, transmission, and pathogenesis of EBV. Transmitted to a new host via saliva, EBV circulates between cellular compartments within oral lymphoid tissues. Epithelial cells primarily support productive viral replication, while B lymphocytes support viral latency and reactivation. EBV infections are typically asymptomatic and benign; however, the latent virus is associated with multiple lymphomas and carcinomas arising in the oral cavity. EBV association with cancer is complex as histologically similar cancers often test negative for the virus. However, the presence of EBV is associated with distinct features in certain cancers. The intrinsic ability of EBV to immortalize B-lymphocytes, via manipulation of survival and growth signaling, further implicates the virus as an oncogenic cofactor. A distinct mutational profile and burden have been observed in EBV-positive compared to EBV-negative tumors, suggesting that viral infection can drive alternative pathways that converge on oncogenesis. Taken together, EBV is also an important prognostic biomarker that can direct alternative therapeutic approaches. Here, we discuss the prevalence of EBV in oral malignancies and the EBV-dependent mechanisms associated with tumorigenesis.
Keywords: Burkitt’s lymphoma; Epstein–Barr virus (EBV); Hodgkin lymphoma; diffuse large B cell lymphoma; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; latency; oral hairy leukoplakia; oral squamous cell carcinoma; salivary gland lymphoepitheliomas; viral-associated tumor.