This sequencing study of 17 acquired immunodeficiency syndrome-related lymphomas (9 primary brain, 8 systemic) and 8 human immunodeficiency virus-negative atypical lymphoproliferations expressing large amounts of the latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1) of Epstein-Barr virus was performed to characterize the carboxy terminal NF-kappa B activation domain of LMP1 at the molecular level in an immunocompromised host. In- frame deletions within the NF-kappa B activation domain were identified in all but 2 primary brain lymphomas, 4 systemic lymphomas, and 4 atypical lymphoproliferations, ie, in 60% of cases. In addition, non silent point mutations (range 1 to 5, mean 3.3) were detected in all cases. Although all changes occurred within the first 100 nucleotides of the carboxy terminal NF-kappa B activation domain--a critical sequence for the protein half-life--not a single point mutation was found in the remaining 62 nucleotides, necessary for malignant transformation. Such a clustering of nonrandom sequence variations, associated with a high oncoprotein expression in immunocompromised hosts, suggests that this part of the LMP1 oncogene behaves as a hypervariable region with natural selection of growth-promoting variants through prolongation of the protein half-life.

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