Most humans become infected with Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), which then persists for life. Infrequently, EBV infection causes infectious mononucleosis (IM) or Burkitt lymphoma (BL). Type I EBV infection, particularly type I BL, stimulates strong responses of innate immune cells. Humans respond to EBV in two alternative ways. Of 24 individuals studied, 13 made strong NK and γδ T cell responses, whereas 11 made feeble γδ T cell responses but stronger NK cell responses. The difference does not correlate with sex, HLA type, or previous exposure to EBV or cytomegalovirus. Cohorts of EBV+ children and pediatric IM patients include both group 1 individuals, with high numbers of γδ T cells, and group 2 individuals, with low numbers. The even balance of groups 1 and 2 in the human population points to both forms of innate immune response to EBV having benefit for human survival. Correlating these distinctive responses with the progress of EBV infection might facilitate the management of EBV-mediated disease.
Scientist, CHEO Research Institute