Epstein—Barr virus (EBV), an agent with growth transforming potential for human B cells, is associated with certain B cell lymphomas in man and also with an epithelial tumour, undifferentiated nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). Since B cell growth transformation is associated with the constitutive expression of a small number of EBV-coded latent proteins, the nuclear antigens EBNA 1, EBNA 2, EBNA 3 and EBNA-LP and the latent membrane protein (LMP), the present work sought to determine whether this same pattern of virus gene expression occurred in NPC. Tumour biopsies were taken from NPC patients from three areas of differing tumour incidence (Kenya, Algeria, Britain) and immediately snap-frozen, as were biopsies of non-EBV-related carcinomas for controls. Immunoblotting of PAGE-separated proteins with selected human sera identified 24 NPC biopsies clearly expressing EBNA 1. When the analysis was extended using selected human sera with antibodies against the other EBNAs, there was no detectable expression of EBNA 2, EBNA 3 or EBNA-LP in any of these 24 biopsies; their EBNA 2-negative status was confirmed using a monoclonal antibody (MAb) PE2 which was reactive in immunoblotting and in immunoprecipitation with EBNA 2A and EBNA 2B proteins. Similar experiments with two different LMP-specific MAbs, CS1 to 4 and S12, revealed heterogeneity between NPC biopsies; 9/24 biopsies were demonstrably LMP-positive, the degree of expression varying considerably between individual tumours in a manner which was not related to the level of EBNA 1 expression. None of the 24 NPC biopsies expressed detectable amounts of EBV lytic cycle antigens. A nude mouse-passaged NPC cell line, C15, likewise expressed EBNA 1 and LMP but none of the other EBV latent proteins nor lytic cycle antigens. This work identifies a novel type of EBV-cell interaction in NPC cells which is distinct from that seen in transformed B cell lines and from that seen to date in EBV-positive B cell lymphomas.


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