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Epstein Barr virus antigen, B lymphocyte, cytotoxic T lymphocyte, dendritic cell, episome


The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-encoded nuclear antigen EBNA1 is critical for the persistence of the viral episome in replicating EBV-transformed human B cells. Therefore, all EBV-induced tumors express this foreign antigen. However, EBNA1 is invisible to CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes because its Gly/Ala repeat domain prevents proteasome-dependent processing for presentation on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I. We now describe that CD4+ T cells from healthy adults are primed to EBNA1. In fact, among latent EBV antigens that stimulate CD4+ T cells, EBNA1 is preferentially recognized. We present evidence that the CD4+ response may provide a protective role, including interferon γ secretion and direct cytolysis after encounter of transformed B lymphocyte cell lines (B-LCLs). Dendritic cells (DCs) process EBNA1 from purified protein and from MHC class II-mismatched, EBNA1-expressing cells including B-LCLs. In contrast, B-LCLs and Burkitt's lymphoma lines likely present EBNA1 after endogenous processing, as their capacity to cross-present from exogenous sources is weak or undetectable. By limiting dilution, there is a tight correlation between the capacity of CD4+ T cell lines to recognize autologous B-LCL-expressing EBNA1 and DCs that have captured EBNA1. Therefore, CD4+ T cells can respond to the EBNA1 protein that is crucial for EBV persistence. We suggest that this immune response is initiated in vivo by DCs that present EBV-infected B cells, and that EBNA1-specific CD4+ T cell immunity be enhanced to prevent and treat EBV-associated malignancies.


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