OCT 11, 2016 12:32 PM PDT

How Epstein-Barr Virus Evades the Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
The Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), infamously known for causing bouts of mononucleosis, was originally discovered in 1964 in tissue from a Burkitt lymphoma tumor. Whether it is a college student dealing with an incapacitating mono infection or another individual dealing with a serious EBV-related tumor growth, the virus has a way of exacerbating these conditions by evading the immune system, and scientists are swiftly figuring out how to prevent it from doing so. 
The Epstein-Barr virus prevents infected cells from being attacked by the immune system.
From Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, scientists studied how EBV particles take over B lymphocytes and force them to proliferate without warning other immune cells of the EBV infection. They found that the viral particles produce microRNAs that prevent the normal alarm signal that is sent out by an infected B lymphocyte, so other immune cells could pass by with no reason to believe that the infected cell was under any duress.

"The mechanism we discovered renders killer T cells and helper T cells inactive, even when they directly face the infected cell," said study leader Wolfgang Hammerschmidt.

Normally, infected cells signal to the immune system via molecular pieces of the virus infected them on the cell surface for all to see. However, EBV-associated microRNAs block the production of the proteins required for putting this alert response into action.

"If it were possible to disrupt this blockade, this could be an interesting approach to treat cancer,” Hammerschmidt explained. “The immune system could then better fight tumors that are triggered by EBV."

EBV, also known as human herpesvirus 4, is actually commonly spread among humans through bodily fluids, most often saliva, which is why some refer to mononucleosis as “the kissing disease.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that most people get infected with EBV at some point in their lives, but usually a healthy immune system can keep an infection at bay.

In addition to targeting cases of mononucleosis, which has no specific treatment options, Hammerschmidt’s findings could be also be helpful in treating EBV-related cases of cancer. EBV was the first virus to be shown to cause cancer in humans, and it is associated with a wide variation of human cancers. 

Hammerschmidt’s study was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 


Sources: CDC, Experimental and Molecular Medicine, Helmholtz Zentrum München
Image: Prof. Georg Bornkamm / Helmholtz Zentrum München
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 27, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
SEP 27, 2019
AI Exponentially Accelerates Drug Development
Research and development for new drugs is both an expensive and lengthy process, often lasting years, if not decades. With the development of artificial in...
SEP 29, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
SEP 29, 2019
Researchers Can Now Reverse Skin Cancer
Ten years ago, just 5% of people with advanced melanoma (skin cancer) lived more than five years after being diagnosed. Now however, researchers from the I...
OCT 22, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 22, 2019
New RNA Observation Shows Previously Unkown Attachment to Sugar
Scientists in the Bertozzi at Staford University have published surprising observations of glycan sugars attached directly to RNA during glycosylation.&nbs...
OCT 29, 2019
Microbiology
OCT 29, 2019
Antibody Discovered That May be the Key to a Universal Flu Vaccine
Instead of designing a new flu vaccine every year, researchers have made a breakthrough that may lead to a single vaccine that protects against all strains....
OCT 31, 2019
Cancer
OCT 31, 2019
Unpacking lactate's role in the Warburg effect
In a recent issue of Nature, the findings of one study made a particularly big splash: how and why cancer cells use energy differently than healthy cells. ...
DEC 21, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 21, 2019
Improving Vaccines for Meningitis
Scientists at the University of Nottingham are seeking new ways to improve vaccine use in the protection against the bacterium, Neisseria meningitides that...
Loading Comments...