Twelve cases of relapsing Hodgkin's disease were investigated for the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Of these, 7 cases contained EBV gene products (LMP1, EBER RNA) in the diagnostic Reed-Sternberg cells and variants at first presentation and at relapse(s), whereas 5 cases were negative at both first diagnosis and relapse. Among the 7 EBV- positive cases, material for DNA extraction was available in 2 cases at both diagnosis and relapse(s). Ig and T-cell receptor gene rearrangements displayed a germline configuration in the 2 cases. However, Southern blot analysis of the terminal repeats (TR) of EBV genome showed that, in 1 of the 2 cases, the fragment was of the same size at diagnosis and in the subsequent two relapses (1 early and 1 late). The second case contained monoclonal EBV genome at diagnosis, but the Southern analysis of the TR was negative at relapse. The latent membrane protein (LMP1) sequence analysis confirmed the persistence of a distinctive viral strain in each of the 2 cases with individual abnormalities within the carboxy terminal region (5 point mutations and a 30-bp deletion for the first case and 6 point mutations for the second case). The persistence of a given strain in early and late relapses is evidence towards the view that in Hodgkin's disease such relapses are related to a single residual tumor cell clone.

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