Human solid tumor xenografts in immunodeficient mice are vulnerable to lymphomagenesis associated with Epstein-Barr virus

Kui Chen, Sharif Ahmed, Oyedele Adeyi, John E. Dick, Anand Ghanekar

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70 Scopus citations


Xenografting primary human solid tumor tissue into immunodeficient mice is a widely used tool in studies of human cancer biology; however, care must be taken to prove that the tumors obtained recapitulate parent tissue. We xenografted primary human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) tumor fragments or bulk tumor cell suspensions into immunodeficient mice. We unexpectedly observed that 11 of 21 xenografts generated from 16 independent patient samples resembled lymphoid neoplasms rather than HCC. Immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry analyses revealed that the lymphoid neoplasms were comprised of cells expressing human CD45 and CD19/20, consistent with human B lymphocytes. In situ hybridization was strongly positive for Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) encoded RNA. Genomic analysis revealed unique monoclonal or oligoclonal immunoglobulin heavy chain gene rearrangements in each B-cell neoplasm. These data demonstrate that the lymphoid neoplasms were EBV-associated human B-cell lymphomas. Analogous to EBV-associated lymphoproliferative disorders in immunocompromised humans, the human lymphomas in these HCC xenografts likely developed from reactivation of latent EBV in intratumoral passenger B lymphocytes following their xenotransplantation into immunodeficient recipient mice. Given the high prevalence of latent EBV infection in humans and the universal presence of B lymphocytes in solid tumors, this potentially confounding process represents an important pitfall of human solid tumor xenografting. This phenomenon can be recognized and avoided by routine phenotyping of primary tumors and xenografts with human leukocyte markers, and provides a compelling biological rationale for exclusion of these cells from human solid tumor xenotransplantation assays.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere39294
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 18 2012
Externally publishedYes


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