Features distinguishing Epstein Barr virus infections of epithelial cells and B cells: Viral genome expression, genome maintenance, and genome amplification.

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with malignant diseases of lymphoid and epithelial cell origin. The tropism of EBV is due to B cell-restricted expression of CD21, the major receptor molecule for the virus. However, efficient infection of CD21(-) epithelial cells can be achieved via transfer from EBV-coated B cells. Here we compare and contrast the early events following in vitro infection of primary B cells and epithelial cells. Using sensitive, quantitative RT-qPCR assays for several latent and lytic transcripts, and two-colour immunofluorescence staining to analyse expression at the single cell level, we confirmed and extended previous reports indicating that the two cell types support different patterns of transcription. Furthermore, whilst infection of B cells with one or two copies of EBV resulted in rapid amplification of the viral genome to >20 copies per cell, such amplification was not normally observed following infection of primary epithelial cells or undifferentiated epithelial lines. In epithelial cells, EBNA1 expression was detected in only about 40% of EBER(+) cells, and the EBV genome was subsequently lost during prolonged culture. One exception was that infection of AGS, a gastric carcinoma line, resulted in maintenance of EBNA1 expression and amplification of the EBV episome. In contrast to B cells, where amplification of the EBV episome occurred even with a replication-defective BZLF1-knockout virus, amplification in AGS cells was dependent upon early lytic cycle gene expression. These data highlight the influence of the host cell on the outcome of EBV infection with regards to genome expression, amplification, and maintenance.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7749-7760
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2009