Epstein-Barr virus replication in oropharyngeal epithelial cells

N Engl J Med. 1984 May 10;310(19):1225-30. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198405103101905.


Despite the well-established tropism of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) for human B lymphocytes, the cell type within the oropharynx capable of allowing EBV replication has never been conclusively identified. Using in situ cytohybridization, we demonstrated EBV DNA in oropharyngeal epithelial cells from 10 of 12 patients with infectious mononucleosis. In duplicates of specimens found to contain cell-associated EBV DNA, we detected EBV RNA in two of four samples, using a biotin-labeled EBV DNA probe, thereby confirming the intracellular location of the viral genome. In 20 of 28 throat washings analyzed, cytohybridization results and assays for cell-free infectious virus were in agreement. In seven of the eight remaining specimens, cytohybridization identified intracellular EBV DNA in the absence of detectable extracellular virus. We conclude that the oropharyngeal epithelial cell may be the target cell type that is productively infected in infectious mononucleosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Epithelium / microbiology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / growth & development*
  • Humans
  • Infectious Mononucleosis / microbiology
  • Lymphocytes / microbiology
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Oropharynx / microbiology*
  • RNA, Viral / analysis
  • Virus Replication


  • DNA, Viral
  • RNA, Viral