Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is detectable in approximately 40% of cases of Hodgkin's disease (HD). The viral genomes remain latent but positive staining with anti-ZEBRA antibody in a small fraction of Reed-Sternberg (RS) cells of some cases of HD would suggest possible activation of EBV replication within these cells. We report the investigation of 40 cases of EBV-associated HD (including 5 human immunodeficiency virus [HIV]- positive cases) using anti-ZEBRA antibodies. Positive staining was found in only three (HIV-negative) cases. One of these three cases showed approximately 1% of ZEBRA-positive tumor cells, whereas the other two cases showed rare positive cells. In the case with 1% ZEBRA- positive cells, a strong signal was obtained with anti-EA-R antibody and BHLF1 oligoprobes, which indicated early gene expression. EBV replication could be shown in this case by nonisotopic in situ DNA-DNA hybridization, which showed markedly increased numbers of EBV genomes in a few RS cells. Viral replication was confirmed using reverse transcriptase and polymerase chain reaction that detected transcripts from the BLLF1 gene encoding for the membrane antigen gp350/220. EBV replication in RS cells seems to be an exceptional event but may provide clues to mechanisms of control of viral latency and assume clinical implications in the future.

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