Researchers discover how Epstein-Barr virus evades immune system

Canadian researchers discovered how Epstein-Barr virus evades detection by the immune system, according to a study recently published in Blood.

Researchers with the the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver discovered that EBV virus triggers molecular events in the immune system that turn off key proteins. The events make infected cells immune to the natural killer T immune cells that would typically seek and destroy EBV-infected cells.

"If you can force these invisible proteins to be expressed, then you can render infected cells visible to NKT cells, and defeat the virus," Rusung Tan, the study's principal investigator, said. "This could be key to making a vaccine that would provide immunity from ever being infected with EBV."

The research team looked at cells from infected tonsils removed from patients at BC Children's Hospital. The researchers infected the tonsillar B cells with EBV and combined some of the cells with NKT cells. They determined that more NKT cells led to fewer EBV-infected cells, while an absence of NKT cells led to an increase in EBV-infected cells.

EBV causes infectious mononucleosis and cancers like Hodgkin's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. The virus infects epithelial cells in the throat and immune cells called B cells.

The findings of the study could lead to future progress toward the development of an EBV vaccine.