Epstein-Barr virus dynamics in asymptomatic immunocompetent adults: An intensive 6-month study

Kristin H. Johnson, Chiu Ho Webb, David O. Schmeling, Richard C. Brundage, Henry H. Balfour

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21 Scopus citations


Characterizing Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) dynamics in asymptomatic immunocompetent persons provides a baseline for defining quantitative thresholds associated with EBV disease. Studying latent membrane protein (LMP)-1 sequence variation over time could establish the rates of reactivation and superinfection, and also trace transmission. Twelve asymptomatic adult subjects were evaluated prospectively nine times over 6 months. EBV serum antibodies were measured by enzyme immunoassay. EBV DNA in oral and whole-blood samples was quantitated by real-time (TaqMan) PCR and analyzed for LMP-1 sequence variability. All 11 antibody positive subjects had EBV DNA detected in their oral compartment at least once during the 6-month study. The quantities ranged from 1.70 to 4.91 log 10 copies EBV per ml of oral cell pellet. One subject was continuously viremic for 79 days. Overall, EBV DNA was detected in 63 (24%) of 260 samples from 11 antibody-positive subjects and in 0/27 samples from an antibody-negative subject. The quantities in positive samples ranged from 1.7 to 4.9 log 10 copies EBV per ml. EBV LMP-1 gene sequence variations in subjects were constant over time regardless of the compartment sampled. Subjects 18-30 years old had EBV DNA detected more frequently than subjects >30 years old (38/108 positive samples versus 25/152; P<0.001). In conclusion, EBV DNA shedding is common in asymptomatic adults. The younger adults shed more frequently, which may reflect a shorter time from their primary EBV infection to sampling. The LMP-1 sequence analysis method employed here could be used to trace person-to-person transmission because patterns remained almost identical over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere81
JournalClinical and Translational Immunology
StatePublished - May 13 2016

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© 2016 Australasian Society for Immunology Inc.


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