Background: If Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is the cause of Kaposi's sarcoma, serologic evidence of infection should be present in patients before the disease develops.
Methods: Using an immunoblot assay for two latent nuclear antigens of KSHV, we tested serum samples from homosexual male patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) with and without Kaposi's sarcoma (HIV-infected men with hemophilia), HIV-seronegative blood donors, and HIV-seronegative patients with high titers of antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Serial serum samples obtained from patients with Kaposi's sarcoma before the diagnosis of the disease were tested for evidence of seroconversion.
Results: Of 40 patients with Kaposi's sarcoma, 32 (80 percent) were positive for antibodies against KSHV antigens by the immunoblot assay, as compared with only 7 of 40 homosexual men (18 percent) without Kaposi's sarcoma immediately before the onset of AIDS. Of 122 blood donors, 22 EBV-infected patients, and 20 HIV-infected men with hemophilia, none were seropositive. When studied by the immunoblot assay over a period of 13 to 103 months, 21 of the 40 patients with Kaposi's sarcoma (52 percent) seroconverted 6 to 75 months before the clinical appearance of Kaposi's sarcoma. The median duration of antibody seropositivity for KSHV-related latent nuclear antigens before the diagnosis of Kaposi's sarcoma was 33 months.
Conclusions: In most patients with kaposi's sarcoma and AIDS, seroconversion to positivity for antibodies against KSHV-related nuclear antigens occurs before the clinical appearance of Kaposi's sarcoma. This supports the hypothesis that Kaposi's sarcoma results from infection with KSHV.