Targeting Epstein-Barr virus oncoprotein LMP1-mediated high oxidative stress suppresses EBV lytic reactivation and sensitizes tumors to radiation therapy

Jianmin Hu, Yueshuo Li, Hongde Li, Feng Shi, Longlong Xie, Lin Zhao, Min Tang, Xiangjian Luo, Weihua Jia, Jia Fan, Jian Zhou, Qiang Gao, Shuangjian Qiu, Weizhong Wu, Xin Zhang, Weihua Liao, Ann M. Bode, Ya Cao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Generating oxidative stress is a critical mechanism by which host cells defend against infection by pathogenic microorganisms. Radiation resistance is a critical problem in radiotherapy against cancer. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a cancer-causing virus and its reactivation plays an important role in the development of EBV-related tumors. This study aimed to explore the inner relationship and regulatory mechanism among oxidative stress, EBV reactivation, and radioresistance and to identify new molecular subtyping models and treatment strategies to improve the therapeutic effects of radiotherapy. Methods: ROS, NADP+/NADPH, and GSSG/GSH were detected to evaluate the oxidative stress of cells. 8-OHdG is a reliable oxidative stress marker to evaluate the oxidative stress in patients. Its concentration in serum was detected using an ELISA method and in biopsies was detected using IHC. qPCR array was performed to evaluate the expression of essential oxidative stress genes. qPCR, Western blot, and IHC were used to measure the level of EBV reactivation in vitro and in vivo. A Rta-IgG ELISA kit and EBV DNA detection kit were used to analyze the reactivation of EBV in serum from NPC patients. NPC tumor tissue microarrays was used to investigate the prognostic role of oxidative stress and EBV reactivation. Radiation resistance was evaluated by a colony formation assay. Xenografts were treated with NAC, radiation, or a combination of NAC and radiation. EBV DNA load of tumor tissue was evaluated using an EBV DNA detection kit. Oxidative stress, EBV reactivation, and the apoptosis rate in tumor tissues were detected by using 8-OHdG, EAD, and TUNEL assays, respectively. Results: We found that EBV can induce high oxidative stress, which promotes its reactivation and thus leads to radioresistance. Basically, EBV caused NPC cells to undergo a process of 'Redox Resetting' to acquire a new redox status with higher levels of ROS accumulation and stronger antioxidant systems by increasing the expression of the ROS-producing enzyme, NOX2, and the cellular master antioxidant regulator, Nrf2. Also, EBV encoded driving protein LMP1 promotes EBV reactivation through production of ROS. Furthermore, high oxidative stress and EBV reactivation were positively associated with poor overall survival of patients following radiation therapy and were significant related to NPC patients' recurrence and clinical stage. By decreasing oxidative stress using an FDA approved antioxidant drug, NAC, sensitivity of tumors to radiation was increased. Additionally, 8-OHdG and EBV DNA could be dual prognostic markers for NPC patients. Conclusions: Oxidative stress mediates EBV reactivation and leads to radioresistance. Targeting oxidative stress can provide therapeutic benefits to cancer patients with radiation resistance. Clinically, we, for the first time, generated a molecular subtyping model for NPC relying on 8-OHdG and EBV DNA level. These dual markers could identify patients who are at a high risk of poor outcomes but who might benefit from the sequential therapy of reactive oxygen blockade followed by radiation therapy, which provides novel perspectives for the precise treatment of NPC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11921-11937
Number of pages17
Issue number26
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81672705, 81430064, 81602402, 81874172), the Key Research Development and Plan of Hunan Province (2018SK2123) and the College Students’ Innovation Project of Central South University (2017zzts205).

Publisher Copyright:
© The author(s). This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.


  • Epstein-Barr virus reactivation
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • Oxidative stress
  • Prognostic bio-model
  • Radioresistance


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