Epstein–Barr virus ncRNA from a nasopharyngeal carcinoma induces an inflammatory response that promotes virus production

Zhe Li, Ming Han Tsai, Anatoliy Shumilov, Francesco Baccianti, Sai Wah Tsao, Remy Poirey, Henri Jacques Delecluse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The Epstein–Barr virus M81 strain, isolated from a nasopharyngeal carcinoma, induces potent spontaneous virus production in infected B cells. We found that the M81 non-coding Epstein–Barr-encoded RNA EBER2, which carries polymorphisms that are mainly restricted to viruses found in endemic nasopharyngeal carcinomas, markedly stimulated this process. M81 EBER2 increased CXCL8 expression, and this chemokine enhanced spontaneous lytic replication levels in M81-infected B cells. Both events resulted from the endocytosis of extracellular vesicles containing EBER2 that were generated by neighbouring M81-infected B cells, thereby generating a paracrine loop. These effects were strictly dependent on a functional Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7), a sensor of single-stranded RNA located in the endosome of these cells. These unique properties of M81 EBER2 could be ascribed to its unusually high expression level and to the ability of its single-stranded region to activate TLR7; both of these properties were dependent on M81-specific polymorphisms. Thus, M81 induced chronic inflammation in its target cells and this resulted in increased virus production. These observations provide a mechanistic molecular link between M81 virus replication—a central viral function and a cancer risk factor—and the production of a chemokine involved in inflammation and carcinogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2475-2486
Number of pages12
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019


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