Molecular evidence for rhesus lymphocryptovirus infection of epithelial cells in immunosuppressed rhesus macaques.
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Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a human oncogenic herpesvirus associated with epithelial cell and B-cell malignancies. EBV infection of B lymphocytes is essential for acute and persistent EBV infection in humans; however, the role of epithelial cell infection in the normal EBV life cycle remains controversial. The rhesus lymphocryptovirus (LCV) is an EBV-related herpesvirus that naturally infects rhesus macaques and can be used experimentally to model persistent B-cell infection and B-cell lymphomagenesis. We now show that the rhesus LCV can infect epithelial cells in immunosuppressed rhesus macaques and can induce epithelial cell lesions resembling oral hairy leukoplakia in AIDS patients. Electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and DNA-RNA in situ hybridization were used to identify the presence of a lytic rhesus LCV infection in these proliferative, hyperkeratotic, or parakeratotic epithelial cell lesions. These studies demonstrate that the rhesus LCV has tropism for epithelial cells, in addition to B cells, and is a relevant animal model system for studying the role of epithelial cell infection in EBV pathogenesis.