Background: Human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) infection is causally associated with the development of primary effusion lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma. A transmembrane protein of HHV-8, K1, is readily expressed in those tumors and the expression of K1 alone causes hyperplasia of lymph nodes and lymphomas in mice. The exact mechanism of how K1 causes hyperplasia and lymphomas in K1 expressing mice is not known. The cytoplasmic immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motif (ITAM) of K1 was shown previously to be involved in activation of Nuclear Factor kappa B (NFκ-B). Moreover, we had shown recently that K1 suppresses Fas-mediated apoptosis through its extracellular immunoglobulin-like domain and that K1-transfected mice survived a lethal dose of agonistic anti-Fas antibody (Jo2). We thus hypothesized that development of hyperplasia and lymphomas in K1-expressing mice is driven by alterations of Fas signaling.

Results: Gross examination of thoracic and abdominal cavities of transgenic mice with K1 expression driven by a ubiquitous promoter were sacrificed at 18 months of age revealed enlarged cervical, mediastinal, renal, mesenteric lymph nodes and spleens. Peyer’s patches were also enlarged and readily visible on the outer surface of the ileum. Of 10 K1 mice, 90% developed lymphoid hyperplasia (>3mm) and 60% developed lymphomas, while all (26) control mice remained hyperplasia and lymphoma free. In the extreme cases, K1 mice developed liver or mesenteric tumors (4 and 4 of 10 mice, respectively). Spleens of 78% of K1 mice were enlarged at 18 months and were on average 3.5 times heavier than spleens of non-expressing control mice (332 ± 200 mg vs. 94 ± 26 mg, P < 0.03). The H and E staining of spleen sections showed expansion to the periarteriolar lymphocyte sheath with disruption of normal follicular architecture. Staining of spleen sections with anti-kappa and anti-lambda light chain antibodies revealed presence of monoclonal foci in 3 out of 3 K1 mice (average 6 foci per single section of spleen), but none in the 4 control mice. Moreover, K1 protein was expressed in about 10% of splenic cells as judged from staining with anti-K1 antibody 2H5. To test the hypothesis that expression of K1 protein in spleens makes them resistant to Fas-mediated apoptosis, splenic cells of 6 month old K1 mice (n=3) and matched controls (n=3) were isolated and incubated with 50 ng/mL of agonistic anti-Fas antibody Jo2. At 12 hours of treatment, only 4±1% of splenocytes from K1 mice versus 17±2% of control splenocytes were undergoing apoptosis (P<0.01). At 24 hours of treatment, the difference was even more significant (11±0.6% vs. 50±6%, P<0.005). Splenocytes of K1 mice were indeed more resistant to Jo2 - induced apoptosis than splenocytes from age-matched control mice. Of mice inoculated with a lethal dose of Jo2 antibody, 3 of 12 K1 transgenic (30%) and 13 of 22 control mice (60%) died (P<0.05), further confirming the protective effect of K1 against Fas-mediated apoptosis.

Conclusion: These results over all confirm that K1 is associated with lymphoid hyperplasia and lymphoma and provide plausible explanation of this phenomenon. Interference of K1 with Fas-mediated apoptosis disrupts the normal life cycle of lymphocytes.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.