Study reveals new clues to Epstein-Barr virus

Feb. 28, 2013

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which affects more than 90% of the population worldwide, is associated with several types of cancer, including Hodgkin's lymphoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and has been linked to autoimmune disorders. Now, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have broadened the understanding of this infection with their discovery of a second B-cell attachment receptor for EBV. The new findings appear online in the journal Cell Reports.

“Our discovery that CD35 is an attachment receptor for EBV helps explain several previously unsolved observations,” explains the study's senior author Joyce Fingeroth, MD, a member of the Division of Infectious Diseases at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

To gain entry, EBV must first attach to host cells. EBV gains access to the immune system by attaching to primary B cells. Nearly 30 years ago, Fingeroth and her colleagues discovered that this attachment occurs via the CD21 protein, which until now was the only known B cell attachment receptor for EBV. The recent finding that B cells from a patient lacking CD21 can be infected and immortalized by EBV had indicated that an alternative attachment receptor must exist. The identification of this second receptor—CD35—by Fingeroth's team underscores not only an important finding regarding primary infection but also the importance of EBVgp350/220, (the virus protein that has been found to bind to both attachment receptors) for the development of a vaccine against EBV. Read the study.