The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is known to cause posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD) in immunosuppressed transplant patients. The results of this pilot study showed that all EBV- patients pretransplant experienced primary EBV infection within the first 3 months after transplant surgery. Virtually all of these patients had a higher burden of EBV-infected cells in their peripheral blood (PB) after infection by EBV than did the EBV+ pretransplant group when tested at the same intervals posttransplant. Salivary EBV titers also increased in most patients, but the difference between the two groups was statistically significant only at 12 months, whereupon EBV+ patients showed higher titers compared with EBV- (alpha < 0.053). Also, polymerase chain reaction amplification followed by Southern blotting was performed to detect EBV sequences in PB mononuclear cells. This technique allowed confirmation of the blood culture results and constituted a faster alternative compared with the culture assay. The highest increase in the number of EBV-infected lymphocytes at 3 months posttransplant obtained from PB was seen in a patient who developed fatal PTLD and in another with protracted infectious mononucleosis. Thus, the number of EBV-infected cells in PB was found to correlate positively with risk of development of PTLD at 3 months posttransplant in our group of pediatric transplant patients. This study showed that quantitative lymphocyte culture of PB was an accurate index of immunosuppression and a reliable method for assessing the risk of PTLD development.

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