Human cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses to Epstein-Barr virus infection

Annu Rev Immunol. 1997;15:405-31. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.15.1.405.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) provides one of the most informative systems with which to study cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses in humans. The virus establishes a highly immunogenic growth-transforming infection of B lymphocytes, associated with the coordinate expression of six virus-coded nuclear antigens (EBNAs 1, 2, 3A, 3B, 3C, -LP) and two latent membrane proteins (LMPs 1 and 2). This elicits both primary and memory CT8+ CTL responses that are markedly skewed toward HLA allele-specific epitopes drawn from the EBNA3A, 3B, 3C subset of latent proteins, with reactivities to other antigens being generally much less frequent. This hierarchy of immunodominance among the different latent proteins may at least partly reflect their differential accessibility to the HLA class I-processing pathway. Furthermore, CTLs to some of the immunodominant epitopes involve highly conserved T cell receptor (TCR) usage, a level of focusing which evidence suggests could have immunopathological consequences from cross-reactive recognition of other target structures. EBV is associated with a range of human tumors, and there is increasing interest in the possibility of targeting such malignancies using virus-specific CTLs. The dramatic reversal of EBV-driven lymphoproliferations in bone marrow transplant patients following CTL infusion demonstrates the potential of this approach, and here we discuss prospects for its extension to other EBV-positive tumors in which the immunodominant EBNA3A, 3B, 3C proteins are not expressed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Antigens, Viral / genetics
  • Epitopes / genetics
  • Herpesviridae Infections / immunology*
  • Herpesviridae Infections / prevention & control
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / immunology*
  • Tumor Virus Infections / prevention & control
  • Viral Vaccines / isolation & purification


  • Antigens, Viral
  • Epitopes
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Viral Vaccines