Epstein—Barr virus (EBV) induces human B cell transformation and is closely associated with naso-pharyngeal carcinoma. The expression of an EBV latent membrane protein, LMP-1, protects B cells from apoptosis by up-regulating the expression of a cellular oncogene, -2. LMP-1 also transforms rodent fibroblasts and affects the differentiation, morphology and growth of human and rodent epithelial cells. In this report, we describe a novel finding that high level expression of the LMP-1 gene in a human epithelial cell line (RHEK-1) induces apoptosis, characterized by chromosomal DNA fragmentation in the transfected cells. In particular, such an effect was more apparent under serum starvation. We also found that in the transfected RHEK-1 cells, LMP-1 expression neither affected -2 expression nor led the cells to grow in semisolid soft agar medium. These results indicate that LMP-1 may participate in the development of EBV-associated epithelial malignancy via a mechanism different from that seen in B cell or fibroblast transformation.


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