Role of Epstein-Barr virus RNAs in the Pathogenesis of Virus-associated Lymphoid Tumors
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections are associated with a number of types of human cancer, including Burkitt lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. EBV carries a number of viral genes whose products are known to result in increased cell growth and/or decreased cell death, both of which contribute to the growth of cancer cells. In Burkitt lymphoma the role of EBV in cancer is unclear as the virus does not express those genes known to stimulate cell growth in the laboratory. However, the ability of Burkitt lymphoma cells to cause tumors in an experimental model is strictly dependent on the presence of the virus and is in part due to expression of two small viral RNAs (EBERs). These RNAs, unlike most RNAs, do not result in production of a protein. Rather their function is accomplished as an RNA molecule. Dr. Ruf’s goal is to understand how the virus causes cancer by investigating the mechanisms of action of the EBERs. Dr. Ruf and her team are investigating what cellular gene products are required for EBER function and how the EBERs alter the normal function of these genes to benefit the virus. Dr. Ruf anticipates that the knowledge they gain in these studies will be applicable to all EBV-dependent tumors, as well as to their understanding of the role of the EBERs in maintaining infection in healthy virus carriers. Identification of how this virus causes cancer will lead to targets for future treatment of developing and established tumors and perhaps preventive therapies. Additionally, their work aims to contribute to a relatively new field of research relating to RNA molecules in general function and how they can influence the growth and survival of cells.