Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with the development of two human B-cell malignancies, Burkitt's lymphoma and lymphomas that occur in the immunosuppressed host. The latter category of disease has become important recently as it is seen primarily in organ transplant recipients and individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. One possible mechanism for lymphoma development involves a reduction in or lack of EBV-specific cytotoxic T-cell recognition. In support of this model are previous observations that the expression of EBV nuclear antigen 2 (EBNA2) and latent membrane protein, two viral antigens associated with major histocompatibility complex class I-restricted T- cell killing, are downregulated in Burkitt's lymphoma and in early passage lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCL) derived from the malignant lesions. To determine whether a similar mechanism could occur in the development of posttransplant lymphoproliferative disorders (PTLD), we compared EBV gene expression among 23 PTLD tumor lesions obtained from 11 solid organ transplant recipients and among LCL derived from 3 of these lesions. In this report, we demonstrate, by Southern blot, Western blot, and immunofluorescence analysis, that (1) the tumor lesions exhibit varying patterns of restricted viral gene expression; (2) LCL derived from these lesions may represent the in vitro selection of cell subpopulations; and (3) immunosuppressed individuals have a markedly reduced antibody response to the latent cycle antigens, EBNA1, EBNA2, and EBNA-LP, but not to the lytic cycle viral capsid antigen when compared with normal immunocompetent controls.

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